HART and PETA worked together today to bring attention to the plight of elephants owned by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. KIAH was on site and has aired a report, which you can see here.
It Is Not a Question of Do They Abuse
The report is far more skeptical than is merited. There is a long and documented history of abuse, with under-oath testimony from former and current Ringling employees verifying what undercover investigations had revealed: the beating and neglect of elephants by Ringling is commonplace.
Mother Jones ran a very thorough investigation of the treatment of elephants and their case was vindicated just last year when Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, were forced to pay a fine of $270,000. In the USDA investigation, depositions and transcripts from court revealed shocking truths from trainers, vets, and even executives of Ringling.
A violation of the Animal Welfare Act carries a recommended penalty of $10,000. The size of the fine suggests the USDA confirmed at least 27 violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). There were likely more, as the USDA in an internal audit from 2005 admitted to being “lenient” on AWA abusers. As part of their settlement, the USDA is not allowed to investigate further any cases of abuse prior to the agreed date and Feld Entertainment must employ a compliance officer for the next few years.
We now also know that Ringling uses cruel practices that are not necessarily illegal, but are certainly immoral. It is regular practice for baby elephants who are still nursing to be forcibly removed from their mothers with ropes and chains in order to begin training. These elephants are children and mothers, with all the emotional attachments that you would expect between land mammals. That spiriting the babies away takes so much brute force and implements suggests how terrible it must be for the elephants.
So the routine abuse of elephants is not in question.
The Question Is How to Stop It
Kenneth Feld, the majority owner of FEI and Ringling, admitted that the elephants are by far the main draw for the circus. They generate over $100 million annually, according to his under-oath testimony. Ringling documents show that there are about 50 elephants working each year, meaning each elephant brings in $2 million a year for Feld.
It would take around 10 thousand fines to make the abuse of elephants nonviable for Ringling, and the USDA inspects only a few times a year.
Simply put, there are only two solutions to circus elephant abuse: 1. A law banning the use of elephants for entertainment, or 2. People stop paying to see the Cruelest Show on Earth.
And that’s why we’re out there.