Ringling Brothers lawsuit in New York Times

1 02 2009

This week we learned that the Los Angeles City Council has refused to release the city’s lone elephant, Billy, to sanctuary, and will instead continue building a $42-million dollar enclosure for him and others who will be imported — in this economy. You’ll find Thursday’s front page Los Angeles Times article on line at  http://tinyurl.com/dztmzw and can respond with a letter to letters@latimes.com .

Now a pivotal lawsuit in the world of animal, and particularly elephant, advocacy, which has been in the works for years, is set to begin this coming Wednesday, February 4. It is covered in today’s, Sunday February 1, New York Times. 

The article, by David Stout, is headed, “Suit Challenges Image of Circus Elephants as Willing Performers.”  (Page A22) It opens:

“One of the most iconic images of American life, that of circus elephants joined trunk-to-tail as they lumber along to delight ‘children of all ages,’ as the old saying goes, is about to be debated in a courtroom.

“Are the beasts docile because they are highly intelligent and respond well to training, reinforced with the promise of apples, carrots, water and kindness at day’s end? Or do they obey because their spirits have been broken and they fear getting hit by their trainers?”

“These are among the questions that will be asked when a lawsuit by a coalition of animal rights’ groups against the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus and its parent company opens in federal court here on Wednesday.”

We learn that the plaintiffs, four animal advocacy groups, charge that elephants are kept in cramped and filthy quarters, in chains for extended for periods, and are regularly prodded and bloodied with bull hooks. Representatives of Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling, suggest that conditions are splendid and that the bullhook is “no more cruel than a leash on a dog or a bridle on a horse.”

According to the article, the plaintiffs are suing largely under the endangered species act, which prohibits harming a members of endangered species. They seek “an injunction barring the circus from chaining the elephants for long stretches” and from hitting them with bullhooks.

The defense says that the plaintiffs are “In effect…hoping to put an end to circus elephants.” Indeed, in a video to which I will link below, we hear ex Ringling employee Tom Rider make it clear that because elephants will not willingly do circus tricks, and because they will not perform for bags of treats, an end to chaining and hitting would mean an end to elephant circus performances. 

We read that Feld entertainment representatives talk of their commitment to conservation programs. Unfortunately the article ends with a quote from chief executive Kenneth Feld who says:  ”I love these animals.” The article, however, has made it clear that there is big money involved.

You’ll find the full article on line at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/us/01circus.html

And you can read more about the lawsuit and see some of the video, including interview segments with both former Ringling employee Tom Rider (who argues for the plaintiffs, and elephants) and Feld executive Kenneth Feld, on line at:


Please watch the video. 

It is great to see the case covered in the New York Times. Please keep the discussion in the news by sending letters to the editor. The New York Times takes letters at letters@nytimes.com

And why not keep an eye out for this issue in your local media, or put it there, with a letter to your editor? You can use any article that mentions zoos or circuses or marine parks as a jump-off point.  

Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Remember that shorter letters are more likely to be published. And please be sure not to use any comments or phrases from me or from any other alerts in your letters. Editors are looking for original responses from their readers.


Yours and the animals’,

Karen Dawn





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