Home Page Home | Search Search | Online Store Store | Donate Donate | RSS Feeds RSS Feeds |  

Ringling Lawsuit

Court of Appeals Ruling

Washington, D.C. (October 28, 2011) — Court of Appeals upholds Trial Court Ruling (Acrobat PDF).

Trial Court Ruling

Washington, D.C. (December 31, 2009) — Katherine Meyer, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in ASPCA, et al. v. Feld Entertainment, Inc. released the following statement on behalf of the plaintiffs regarding yesterday's ruling by Judge Emmet Sullivan of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia:

"After a nearly ten year legal battle against the Ringling Bros. Circus regarding its mistreatment of endangered Asian elephants, a federal judge yesterday dismissed the case on grounds that the plaintiffs lacked 'standing' to pursue their claims. Because he dismissed the case for a lack of jurisdiction, the Court did not address any of the extensive evidence presented at trial that showed Asian elephants kept on chains for much of their lives and hit with bull hooks, or the testimony of several renowned experts that these practices harm the elephants in many ways. The case focuses on elephant mistreatment under the Endangered Species Act. Had the Court addressed the merits of the case and ruled favorably for the plaintiffs, the Circus would have been required to stop its chaining and bull hook practices or obtain a special permit from the federal government to continue to engage in these practices."

The plaintiffs in the case include a former Ringling Bros. employee, The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals, and the Animal Protection Institute. The plaintiffs are weighing their options regarding further proceedings.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus On Trial

Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free USA), along with three other animal protection organizations and a former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Ringling) employee, sued Ringling for violating the Endangered Species Act by cruelly mistreating Asian elephants. The trial ended in March 2009

The Asian elephant is currently listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), meaning that any acts that would "harm, wound, injure, harass, or kill" an Asian elephant in the wild or in captivity are prohibited. The lawsuit alleged that a number of routine practices by Ringling are in violation of the Endangered Species Act, including the forceful use of a bullhook and the chaining of elephants for most of the day and night. We have amassed a wealth of evidence to support these claims.

Bullhook Use

Bradley Stookey

A bullhook, or ankus, is made of wood, metal, or other substantial material. It is approximately 2 to 3 feet long, and at one end is a sharp steel hook and poker. It is used to poke, prod, strike, and hit animals to "train" them — all for a few moments of human amusement.

We have video footage of Ringling employees repeatedly hitting elephants with bullhooks, as well as video footage of the daily hitting and "hooking" of the elephants to make them stay in line, move in a particular direction, or perform on cue.

In addition, we have Ringling's own internal written documents that discuss the mistreatment of the elephants. For example, Ringling's animal behaviorist reported "an elephant dripping blood all over the arena floor during the show from being hooked." In an internal email, a Ringling veterinary assistant reported that "[a]fter this morning's baths, at least 4 of the elephants came in with multiple abrasions and lacerations from the hooks." After the release of this information to the public, Ringling moved to prohibit the release of any additional information to the public provided via discovery.


Bradley Stookey

Chaining is one of the most common methods used to confine elephants in captivity. It severely restricts an elephant's movements, eliminating its ability to lie down, walk, or socialize with other elephants. The severity of these restrictions can result in neurotic psychological behavior, physical injury, and even the death of captive elephants.

Newly obtained evidence based on the circus's own documents reveals that Ringling keeps elephants virtually immobilized in chains for the majority of their lives. Internal records show that the elephants are chained while confined in boxcars for an average of more than 26 hours at a time, and sometimes for as much as 60-100 hours, as the circus moves across the country.

In addition, former Ringling employees testifyed about the mistreatment they witnessed while working for the circus, all of which corroborates the claims alleged in this case.

In addition to Born Free USA, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals, and Tom Rider, a former Ringling employee.

* The lawsuit was head before the Honorable Emmet J. Sullivan in federal district court in the District of Columbia and handled by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, one of the country's preeminent environmental law firms.

Next: Trial Transcripts »

You Can Help

Please donate to the Elephant Defense Fund and help us continue our fight. With your support, we will do everything we can to end the mistreatment of elephants in circuses and traveling shows.