Alderman Re-introduces Elephant Cruelty Ordinance

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
An elephant never forgets. Apparently, neither does an alderman.

Emboldened by a new complaint filed against Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th) has re-introduced her elephant cruelty ordinance for the third time since the 2005 death of three elephants at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Last year, an admittedly “heartbroken” Smith accepted a watered-down substitute for her proposal only to have it derailed by aldermen scared off by the ridicule that followed Chicago’s now-repealed ban on foie gras.

The new version, introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, is virtually identical to the bill derailed last year. It makes it unlawful “to use on an elephant any device or instrument with the intent to cause pain and injury, except as necessary to administer legitimate medical treatment to the elephant.” Chains and “similar restraining” devices are also prohibited, except for use for medical purposes.

Violators would face daily fines as high as $5,000 and up to six months in prison.

Last year, Smith blamed “foie gras fever”— and $40,000 worth of “lobbying money” from the circus industry — for derailing her ordinance. Feld Entertainment, the producer of Ringling Brothers, was represented by lobbyist Timothy Dart, the brother of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

What’s changed since then? Only the new complaint filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“It’s not an undercover PETA investigation. It’s a retired employee who decided to spill the beans,” Smith said today.

Is she worried foie gras fever could torpedo her bill again?

“It made this more difficult for people to address as a cruelty thing because the foie gras thing has been so ridiculed,” Smith said. “I’m hoping enough time has elapsed to permit a respectful and more serious discussion. [But] it doesn’t matter to me whether the votes are obviously in hand or not. There is the necessity to keep pressing the issue.”

The new complaint accuses trainers at the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation of torturing young elephants using “barbaric’’ tools such as bull hooks, a tool with a wooden handle and a sharp metal hook at one end — and electrical-shock devices. Attached were 50 pictures taken by a former circus employee, who also submitted a lengthy statement.

Ringling Bros. officials have denied the torture charge. They have repeatedly maintained that chaining and bull hooks are used “properly” and not with an “intent to cause pain and injury’’ to elephants.

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