RINGLING BROTHERS TRIAL
In February-March, 2009, the case against Ringling Bros. Circus, ASPCA v. FEI, Civ. No. 03-2006 (D.D.C.), went to trial in federal court in Washington, D.C. The trial lasted six-and-a-half weeks, and was brought by the ASPCA, Animal Welfare Institute, Fund for Animals, Born Free USA (formerly Animal Protection Institute), and former circus employee Tom Rider:
On December 30, 2009, the judge held that the plaintiffs lacked constitutional "standing" to bring the case. Accordingly, the judge did not reach the merits of whether the Circus was "taking" the elephants in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
However, the trial produced a wealth of evidence showing how the circus treats its Asian elephants.
Evidence of Bullhook Use
- Kenneth Feld, the Chief Executive Officer of Feld Entertainment, Inc. (which owns the Ringling Bros. circus), admitted under oath - that "all" of the elephant handlers "strike" the elephants with bull hooks.
- Robert Ridley, who has handled elephants for Ringling Bros. for over 40 years and still works there, testified that he sees "puncture wounds" on the elephants from bull hooks 3 - 4 times a month," and admitted that he sees "hook boils" – infections caused by bull hook wounds – on average twice a week.
- One internal Ringling Bros. memorandum reported that an elephant had 22 puncture wounds caused by a beating with a bull hook. Click here
- Another internal memorandum from Ringling Bros.' own "Animal Behaviorist" reported that an elephant was bleeding "all over the arena floor" after being hit with a bull hook several times during a show. Click here
- Internal Ringling Bros. e-mails recount "lacerations" from "hooks" observed on the elephants after their morning baths, and the need to cover them with "wonder dust" so that they would not be "visible" to the public. Click here
- The medical records of the elephants repeatedly refer to abrasions and lesions on the elephants on the left sides of their bodies – the traditional cue spots for the bull hook.
- At the closing argument, Ringling Bros.' own attorney admitted that the evidence showed that Ringling Bros. "wounds" and "injures" the elephants with bull hooks, within the plain meaning of those words.
Evidence of Chaining Practices
- Ringling Bros.' own testimony and "Transportation Orders" – negotiated with the Railroad companies to use the tracks to transport the elephants throughout the country – document that, on average, the elephants are chained by two legs on hard surfaces, on narrow dark railroad cars for 26 consecutive hours when on the train – about 48 weeks each year – and that they are often chained for 60-70 hours at a time, or longer.
- Gary Jacobson, who runs the Circus' breeding farm in Florida (the "Center for Elephant Conservation" (CEC)), testified that most of the female elephants are kept chained on two legs for at least 16 hours each day on concrete floors, and that some of them are kept on chains for 22 ½ each day.
- Gary Jacobson also testified that none of the adult males is ever allowed on grass, and that after the males reach the age of about 8 years old they are put "behind bars" for the rest of their lives.
- The trial record contained voluminous evidence that the Ringling Bros. elephants – adults and babies – engage in classic "stereotypic" behavior when they are chained – i.e., they sway, bob, and weave repetitively. Elephant expert Dr. Joyce Poole testified that although she has seen thousands of elephants in the wild, she has never seen one engage in such behavior, and Ringling's own expert witness (Dr. Ted Friend) admitted that this behavior is a result of the extreme confinement of the elephants.
Other Trial Testimony
- Dr. Philip Ensely, D.V.M., Dipl. ACZM, a veterinarian who treated elephants at the San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Park for almost 30 years, reviewed thousands of pages of medical records for the elephants and also attended the court-ordered inspections. He testified that nearly 100 percent of the elephants, including the very young elephants, have foot problems and/or musculoskeletal disorders such as lameness and arthritis, and that this is the result of being restrained on chains for most of their lives on hard unyielding surfaces. Dr. Ensley found that these practices also result in abscesses and other wounds on the elephants, including painful bed sores, and that it also causes the elephants physical harm, discomfort, and pain. Click here
- Baby elephants are forcibly removed from their mothers before they are two to be trained to do tricks for the circus: Gary Jacobson admitted that baby elephants are forcibly "grabbed" from their mothers while they are still nursing, that they are kept chained up for months at a time and hit with bull hooks to teach them how to do tricks for the circus.
- The Ringling Bros. elephants are made to defecate on command. One of the handlers, Brian French, testified that the elephants are made to defecate on command before every show so that they do not do so during a performance.
A former Ringling Bros. employee testified that she saw an elephant severely beaten after a show because it had defecated during a performance.
- The Ringling Bros. elephants do not have regular access to water. Although water is an extremely important part of an elephant's life in the wild, Gary Jacobson admitted under cross examination that the Ringling Bros. elephants do not have access to water on their own, but instead are completely dependent on the handlers to provide them with water, and that the elephants at the CEC are provided water only twice each 24 hour period -- at 6:15 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon.
Trial Transcripts and Briefs:
To review all of the trial transcripts and exhibits, as well as the plaintiffs' post-trial briefs and other filings, please visit the websites of the Animal Welfare Institute and Born Free USA.