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Ringling Brothers Circus on trial for elephant abuse

By Gary Bogue
Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 at 8:54 am in Circus, Elephants, Ringling Bros..

Chained elephant photo by Animal Welfare Institute, Washington, DC

Ringling Brothers Stands Trial in Federal Court for Elephant Mistreatment

Sacramento group among plaintiffs in groundbreaking case

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and its parent company, Feld Entertainment, Inc., will finally stand trial to face charges that the circus mistreats its Asian elephants in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. The case is more than eight years in the making.

On Wednesday (Feb. 4), the plaintiffs, including Sacramento-based non-profit Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals, and former Ringling Bros. employee Tom Rider are scheduled to present their case in federal district court in Washington, D.C. Katherine Meyer of the public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal will serve as lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

The groundbreaking lawsuit alleges that Ringling Bros. violates the Endangered Species Act by abusively training and disciplining endangered Asian elephants with sharp implements such as bull hooks and by intensively and continuously confining and chaining the animals for hours and even days on end.

“We look forward to showing at trial how the elephants are routinely hit with bull hooks and continuously chained in the hopes that this case will preclude Ringling Bros. from mistreating these spectacular endangered animals ever again,” said Mr. Rider. Rider worked for two and a half years as a “barn man” for Ringling before leaving the circus because of the mistreatment he witnessed.

Over the years, the plaintiffs have amassed a wealth of evidence to support their claims including photographs, video footage, internal Ringling Bros. documentation and reports from the United States Department of Agriculture.

This evidence includes Ringling’s own internal written documents that discuss the mistreatment of elephants such as an e-mail from a Ringling animal behaviorist reporting “an elephant dripping blood all over the arena floor from being hooked” and the confining of elephants in train boxcars for an average of more than 26 hours at a time, and sometimes for as much as 60-100 hours.

In addition to such evidence, eyewitness testimony from former Ringling Bros. employees and testimony from leading elephant behavior experts will be presented by the plaintiffs at trial

“This trial will shine the spotlight on the abuse occurring behind the big top at Ringling,” said Nicole G. Paquette, esq., senior vice president and general counsel of Born Free USA (also a witness in the trial). “People should be outraged at how these animals are treated: bloodied with bullhooks and confined with chains and in small boxcars day in and day out. Since when does animal abuse — of an endangered species no less — qualify as family entertainment?”

Born Free USA is a national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the U.S. and globally through legislation, litigation and public education. Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader on exotic animal legislation and a member of the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition.

More information on Born Free USA and the Ringling case can be found at

Trial updates will be posted to this web site as well as to Twitter at

Home page for the Animal Welfare Institute:

AWI’s trial page is at

It’s all just one big circus. /Gary

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3 Responses to “Ringling Brothers Circus on trial for elephant abuse”

  1. melissa Says:

    stop abuse animals. people don’t like that! I don’t like. I hope you stop.

  2. grace Says:

    Chins aren’t abuse, keeping animals contained in one area for short periods of time to protect the safety of the animals and the humans around them is more important than protesting “animal cruelty”. It’s not like you got footage of them being beaten, the elephants are just fine standing there for awhile. Would you rather that they weren’t confined and let loose around the city to cause harm to themseves as well as other’s?

  3. Trying to save the animals Says:

    To Grace, the April 22nd 2009 post… Do these animals and elephants really deserve this? Who brought them here out of their natural home where they can be far away from humans? The people of the circus. The Ringling Bros you can clearly and plainly see beats and abuses their animals, and you are a fool to think that chaining them up is mere protection for humans and other animals.

    Being chained to a 4ft chain- THIS IS ANIMAL ABUSE- how would a human feel to be chained. To chain these animals to where, yes in a video you can see, an elephant pulling so hard on a chain it is making their skin raw- THIS IS ANIMAL ABUSE.- You can clearly see that the elephants toes are yellow (and even in the wild their toes are not yellow). The elephants always look dirty. The alephants spend over 90% of their lives chained up and beaten along with being chained up- THIS IS!!! ANIMAL ABUSE and you are a fool to believe this is not animal abuse.

    I pray for these elephants along with all the other animals under the Ringling Bros care and Ringling Bros NEEDS TO MAKE THEIR EVIL CRUEL ACTIONS AND WAYS RIGHT! The Lord and all of us know the truth.

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