Federal Court Will Decide Fate of Circus Elephants Soon
2009-09-16

The Oregonian
By Jacques Von Lunen


These ankle chains used at the Ringling Bros.
circus cause painful osteoarthritis, experts say.

 

Elephants aren't exactly pets, but if you're reading this blog you probably care about animals.

You might be interested, then, that the "greatest show on earth" starting at the Rose Garden tonight, isn't so great for its largest performers, according to a 2003 lawsuit filed by animal-rights groups against Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of the Ringling Bros. circus. After years of legal wrangling, a verdict is expected shortly. The parties' lawyers delivered their final arguments in March.

The animal-rights groups - headed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - allege that FEI employees routinely beat elephants, chain them for long periods of time, hit them with sharp bull hooks and break baby elephants with force to make them submissive. This, the groups say, violates the Endangered Species Act. FEI countered that it contributes to the survival of the species through a breeding program at its Florida Center for Elephant Conservation, and that its employees do not mistreat animals.

Furthermore, the company says, it operates under a special permit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which, FEI says, means its captive animals are not subject to the ESA provisions.

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. - hardly a bastion of unabashed liberalism - has ruled against several FEI motions and has admonished the company for failing or taking a long time to produce required documents.

While FEI says the harsh treatment pictured in a PETA video - the group is not a plaintiff in the suit - is not condoned, nobody denies that elephants are forced to stand in one place for up to twenty hours, often wearing ankle chains. This is necessary for the elephants safety during transport and for public safety when they are in town, the company says.

However, experts - including the Oregon Zoo deputy director and 30-year elephant expert Mike Keele, quoted in a story I wrote three years ago - say immobilizing elephants for long periods of time causes joint and foot problems, such as osteoarthritis. It also stifles their important need for social interaction, Keele and others say.

A verdict in favor of the plaintiffs is bound to greatly impact circuses' ability to keep elephants. It may end the practice of traveling with elephants. But zoos, where the animals are only chained for short periods - during medical exams, for example - will not be affected.

-- Jacques Von Lunen; pets@jvonlunen.com

 Original Article