The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) settled a protracted case related to elephant abuse with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey today, agreeing to pay the circus' parent company $9.3 million. But even with this victory for Ringling Bros., evidence of three-ringed animal cruelty continues to mount.
This case started way back in July of 2000, when the ASPCA and other animal rights advocates filed a complaint alleging that Ringling Bros. used hooks and chains on elephants in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Their case fell apart when lawyers discovered that a key witness—former Ringling Bros. elephant handler Tom Rider—had received over $190,000 by the ASPCA and other litigants. In 2009, the court decided in favor of Ringling Bros., and today the ASPCA settled with Ringling Bros. over charges of litigation abuse. The circus' owners, Feld Entertainment, are still going after a handful of other animal rights organizations. Feld's CEO Kenneth Feld said today in a statement:
These defendants attempted to destroy our family-owned business with a hired plaintiff ... This settlement is a vindication not just for the company but also for the dedicated men and women who spend their lives working and caring for all the animals with Ringling Bros. in the face of such targeted, malicious rhetoric.
Whether malicious or not, there has indeed been much recent discussion about the elephants featured in "The Greatest Show on Earth." Los Angeles is currently considering a ban on circuses that feature performing elephants. "The treatment of elephants in traveling circuses is one of the crueler practices, and it’s time for us to stand up for them," says City Council member Paul Koretz, who believes such bans will be adopted throughout the country soon. The abuse of a circus elephant in the U.K. earlier this year led the British to ban wild animals in circuses. And a Mother Jones investigation into Ringling Bros. found that it's pretty miserable being a pachyderm circus performer:
Ringling elephants spend most of their long lives either in chains or on trains, under constant threat of the bullhook, or ankus—the menacing tool used to control elephants. They are lame from balancing their 8,000-pound frames on tiny tubs and from being confined in cramped spaces, sometimes for days at a time. They are afflicted with tuberculosis and herpes, potentially deadly diseases rare in the wild and linked to captivity.