Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus to Stand Trial in Washington DC. Federal Case. Violation of the Endangered Species Act. Animal Cruelty.

It will please you to know that the Asian elephants performing for Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus will closer to salvation come Oct. 27, 2008 when the federal case against the circus begins. Yes, this is a federal case to be tried in Washington DC against the circus. The plaintiffs are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Animal Protection Institute (API), Fund for Animals (FFA), and Tom Rider, a former barn man for the circus. The plaintiffs alleged that the mistreatment of the elephants by the circus violated the Endangered Species Act. Asian elephants are listed as an endangered species. The circus has done its best to delay the trial and after eight years they will finally face a federal judge.

The specific charges include 1) the forceful use of bullhooks. These are large clubs with sharp curved points meant to train and control the animals through fear 2) the chaining of the elephants for long periods throughout the days and nights 3) the forcible removal of baby elephants from their mothers at Ringling Bros.’ “Center for Elephant Conservation,” (CEC) where it breeds elephants for use in the circus.

The plaintiffs are well-armed with video footage, eyewitness accounts, and investigative reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Former circus employees will also be testifying about the mistreatment of the elephants that they personally witnessed on a daily basis.

There is more. The circus will have to deal with evidence pertaining to the deaths of at least four baby elephants who died in their care over the past few years. They include the 4-year-old Benjamin who died when his trainer attacked him with a bullhook; 4-year-old Kenny who was forced to perform in three shows even though he was gravely ill; 8-month-old Riccardo who, in August 2004, inexplicably broke both of his hind legs while “climbing on a round platform 19 inches high.” He was euthanized afterwards; and there was the baby 11-day-old Bertha whose birth and death wasn’t even acknowledged by the circus, but who perished at the CEC in July 2005.

This is pretty hideous stuff.

The presiding judge will be the Honorable Emmet J. Sullivan. Representing the plaintiffs is the law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a very well-regarded environmental law firm.

For those of us who have rallied and demonstrated against Ringling Bros., this case has been our pie in the sky and it is about to be plunked unto our plates for our delectation. We are hoping that this will be the beginning of the end of Ringling's reign of terror over the elephants.

On Oct. 11th, we had a meeting with Tom Rider and the League of Humane Voters (NYC). Rider was very optimistic about the case. He believes that the right judge is presiding over this case, no-nonsense and critical of the arguments presented before him.

We also had the opportunity to handle a bullhook, passed around the dinner tables, and it is by every means a fearsome weapon. It is precision engineered to be top-heavy so that when you swing it the centrifugal force adds power to it. It has a spear-like tip and a barbed hook on the side. Tom Rider has lived in his van for eight years, traveling around the country spreading his gospel of hope and mercy, championing the release of every elephant in every circus. This man will go down in history as the man who freed the elephants from the circuses.

On a lesser note, Sunday, the 19th Oct., marked the final day of protest against Ringling Bros. at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. This action was coordinated by Hearts for Animals, a new group formed by circus nemesis Claudia Emerson. We took turns over the four days, covering every show there was ( two shows per day ). The circus squeezed approximately ten elephants into a tent measuring 75 X 100 feet which in turn was situated only 15 feet from vehicular traffic. There, the elephants remained for four days in chains unless they were performing in the indoor arena. We engaged the patrons coming into the show and leaving the show, informing them of the hidden cruelty behind the fanfare and glitter. I think our protest was categorically a success.

Pray for the elephants

UPDATE : Oct. 29, 2008 The trial has been postponed indefinitely. More later.

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