In a strange twist of fate, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals must now pay Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus $9.3 million to settle a lawsuit over elephant abuse.
While the ASPCA (as well as several other animal rights groups including the Humane Society and The Animal Welfare Institute) had filed a complaint alleging that the circus has used hooks and chains on elephants in violation of the Endangered Species Act back in 2000, their case soon crumbled when it was discovered that former Ringling Bros. elephant handler Tom Rider had been paid more than $190,000 by the ASPCA to testify against the circus.
As a result circus owners Feld Entertainment sued the animal rights groups and Rider for conspiring to harm the company’s business.
A district court judge in Washington DC ruled in favor of Feld in 2009 after finding that Rider had “overstated his love of elephants and was not a sufficiently credible plaintiff of the case to proceed.” It was also learned that Rider’s only source of income during the previous 8 years had been provided by the animal welfare groups as well as media groups reporting on the (alleged) abuse.
“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,” Feld CEO Kenneth Feld said in a newly released statement.
Although the ASPCA said yesterday that it was not admitting any wrong doing, it “had decided it was in their best interest to resolve the lawsuit after more than a decade.*
It should be noted, however, that none of the proceedings above have actually addressed the core issue of whether the animals have been (or are currently) abused. And while circus spokesman Steve Payne maintains that Ringling Brother’s treatment of its 45 elephants (most born in captivity) has “met or exceeded legal requirements of the Animal Welfare Institute,” there continues to be much heated discussion about the elephants featured in “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
In fact, the city of Los Angeles is currently considering banning 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 settlement only covers the ASPCA. Twelve other defendants are still involved in the Feld Entertainment lawsuit.
For a related article see http://rootshed.com/article/ringling-brothers-circus-fined-270-000-for-mishandling-animals