Circus accused of cruelty

The Greatest Show On Earth, Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus, is the target of a lawsuit brought against it by the ASPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute and The Fund for Animals. The animal activist groups allege the circus has violated the federal Endangered Species Act because of what they claim is routine abuse of Asian elephants in the circus. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has refused to dismiss the lawsuit and accepted the plaintiffs’ allegations. The three groups say they will present eyewitness testimony and videotaped evidence that the circus’ employees beat the elephants with bull hooks. “The ASPCA is very pleased with the court’s decision,” said Lisa Weisberg, senior vice president of government affairs and public policy at the organization. “We believe we will successfully prove that Ringling Bros. engages in ongoing abuse of the elephants during the separation process of babies from their mothers and in the training of elephants to perform.” Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, said: “Elephants, including babies, have suffered greatly at the hands of Ringling Bros. Our lawsuit simply seeks to stop the torture.” Tom Rider, who says he is a former elephant trainer for the circus and co-plaintiff in the case, claims he witnessed elephants being beaten with bull hooks. His testimony is part of the animal rights activists’ case. “The public deserves to know the truth about the routine animal cruelty that goes on under the ‘Big Top,’” said Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals. Feld Entertainment, Inc., which operates the circus, said it was disappointed with the court’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit. The company said: “This procedural ruling is no different than all motions to dismiss which require a judge to accept the plaintiffs’ allegations as true. The ruling does not address the activists’ allegations on their merits in any way, and Ringling Bros. will continue to contest the suit vigorously.” As for Tom Rider, Ringling’s regional public relations director, Joanna Wilbee, said: “…there are no former Ringling Bros. elephant trainers involved in the suit. The person you are referring to has no formal training working with animals and is not an animal care expert. If he ever saw anything that was not in keeping with Ringling’s high animal standards, he had a responsibility to report it immediately to someone at Ringling or to the USDA. He never filed a complaint with anyone including the USDA.” Ringling further stated: “Mr. Rider’s unsubstantiated claims are contradicted by findings from the more than 35 inspections of our Blue Unit (the show he was on) by federal, state and local officials that took place during Mr. Rider’s employment. Most of these inspections were unannounced visits where officials reviewed our entire animal facilities and thoroughly examined the animals.” The company added: “Rider is clearly working in collaboration with animal activist groups, the stated purpose of which is to eliminate animals in circuses. These groups and the people who work with them have a history of manipulating and misrepresenting the facts. For example, some of Rider’s allegations can be immediately discounted given the sworn affidavits in the USDA case file.” Ringling said it is a global leader and advocate for conservation of the Asian elephant. Toward that end, the circus said, it built the 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation, devoted to the breeding, study, retirement and care for Asian elephants. The circus said it will continue to work with veterinarians and researchers from around the world to advance understanding of the species and ensure its survival.

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