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Ringling Bros. Circus federal elephant abuse trial UPDATE

By Gary Bogue
Monday, February 23rd, 2009 at 7:23 am in Abuse, Elephants, Ringling Bros..

I’ve arranged to get regular updates on the Ringling Bros. Circus federal elephant abuse trial in Washington, DC. /Gary

Here’s what happened last week:

Tuesday, 2/17
Tom Rider’s testimony in our (the plaintiffs’) case concluded today. He testified that during his employment at Ringling Bros., he observed the bull hook being used in a manner that caused elephants to bleed hundreds of times. He stated that all the elephants had bloody hook marks and boils at one time or another. Mr. Rider went on to testify that he complained to his supervisor and others at Ringling Bros. about the elephant mistreatment and his job was threatened as a result.

Expert witness, Gail Laule began testifying today as to her expert qualifications. She has a masters degree in behavioral science and works as an animal behavior consultant. In 1989, she and her partner developed “protected contact” as an alternative elephant management system to the “free contact” system used by Ringling Bros. It is expected that she will testify more about this tomorrow.

It is also expected that expert witness, Colleen Kinzley, General Curator of the Oakland Zoo, will also take the stand.
Tracy Silverman, Genera; Counsel, Animal Welfare Institute

Wednesday, 2/18
The testimony of expert witness, Gail Laule concluded today. She testified that Ringling Bros. free contact system is based on negative reinforcement, which greatly limits the elephants’ ability to make choices, maintain control and exhibit natural species typical behaviors, causing them harm and diminished welfare.

She also testified that a bull hook can cause tremendous harm to an elephant and that wounds caused by a bull hook represent abuse. It is Ms. Laule’s expert opinion that an elephant should never be chained for more than 2 hours a day. She also stated that the American Zoological Association (AZA) is making a very concerted effort to see to it that captive elephant chaining is reduced to a minimum.

Colleen Kinzley, General Curator of the Oakland Zoo, also took the stand today. She was offered as an expert in elephant management and training. Ms. Kinzley testified that Ringling Bros. use of the bullhook is very frequent and heavy handed, causing physical harm to the elephants. At an inspection of Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC), Ms. Kinzley observed elephants with scars on their bodies consistent with bull hook use. She testified that it is her opinion that long term chaining of elephants is unacceptable, as it compromises their physical and psychological well being. Ms. Kinzley stated that elephants should be chained for a maximum of 2 hours.

Ms. Kinzley’s testimony will likely conclude Thursday. It is expected that deposition testimony of several witnesses will be introduced into evidence and that Nicole Paquette of Born Free USA United with Animal Protection Institute will testify as to standing.
Tracy Silverman, General Counsel, Animal Welfare Institue

Thursday, 2/19
The testimony of expert witness, Colleen Kinzley concluded today. She testified that zoos do not routinely transport elephants (as travelling circuses like Ringling Bros. do). According to Ms. Kinzley, it is possible to transport elephants without the use of chains, such as in specially designed trucks, but that the duration of transport would still be a concern due to the confinement associated with transporting elephants.

Portions of the deposition of former Ringling Bros. employee, Margaret Tom were offered into evidence today as well. From 2005-2006, Ms. Tom worked back stage with props and preparing the animals to go out on the floor to perform. She testified that the mistreatment of the animals at Ringling Bros. upset her and referred specifically to the bullhook beating of one elephant who defecated on a performer during a show.

It is expected that we (the plaintiffs’) will rest our case on Tuesday of next week (Feb. 24) after presenting deposition testimony of several individuals and calling two remaining expert witnesses, including Dr. Phil Ensley, a retired veterinarian who worked for the San Diego Wildlife Park for nearly 30 years. Dr. Ensley has reviewed all of the elephants’ medical records in the case.
Tracy Silverman, General Counsel, Animal Welfare Institute

More at:

More to come as it happens. /Gary

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8 Responses to “Ringling Bros. Circus federal elephant abuse trial UPDATE”

  1. Michele Hollow Says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I have a deep disdain for the circus. Ringling Bros. is in town and I am urging everyone not to go. I prefer Circus Oz or other circuses that don’t use animals. The Big Apple Circus sometimes has a dog act where the trainer works with former dogs he rescued. These dogs are treated well.
    I also write about pets and wildlife. My articles can be found at

  2. B. Golden Says:

    I love the “We-got-to-protect-everything” folks.
    An elephant cost a lot of money. Do you really think that a high cost/maintance animal is something that any circus will abuse. This is MONEY & they don’t like wasting money.

    Get Real ! ! !

  3. sue slater Says:

    Thank-you,I am a lifetime horse trainer, these elephants live lives of abuse, it’s mentally unhealthy to consider this entertainment.

  4. Joanie Says:

    I would never support a circus that uses animals in it’s acts by paying admission to attend. If everyone boycotted the circus, they would be forced to go out of business. Then maybe these animals could find the peacefulness they deserve.

  5. Jennifer Says:

    These people,escpecilally the ones that claim the circus would not harm the animals because of money, are incredibly niave. The tricks these animals are forced to perform are ridiculous. These animals are dominated with fear and violence.

  6. Jennifer Says:

    B. Golden is an idiot!

  7. Paul Says:

    B. Golden ..You have got to be kidding me right?
    Yep I can not believe I just read that!
    They take vary poor care of the elephants.
    They make a lot of money and take the lest care possible of them ..but yes the least amount of care dose cost a lot.
    Maybe if someone chained you to a boxcar and beat on you a few years none stop you would see the light.

  8. Gabrielle Says:

    Thank you Mr.Golden for you reality check! You really helped me and my teen kids understand what is going on…Money is all about! Too bad Bernie Madoff wasn’t interested in elephants, he just schemed money! Abuse of a different shape but all for money. Does an animal use or care for money? How about this reality check “Gold”?
    I’ll make sure I spread the word all around educating kids & parents what type of entertainment all animal circus are based on. No wonder now and then you hear animals rebel against their trainers/abusers and kill them…Lots of money too…That’s a show for you Mr G.

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