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For Immediate Release: 07/16/08

Ringling circus arrives in CA amid allegations of abuse and looming federal court date

Los Angeles, CA — As Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus prepares to open in Los Angeles, animal groups are up in arms over Ringling’s record of animal abuse, a looming federal trial on abuse of endangered Asian elephants, and Ringling’s role in weakening L.A. city requirements for animal care.

Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free USA), along with three other organizations and a former Ringling employee, is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against Ringling for its violations of the Endangered Species Act in its treatment of endangered Asian Elephants. The trial is set to begin October 7, 2008 and will have Ringling answering allegations that it mistreats elephants because of its routine practice of hitting elephants with bullhooks and chaining the elephants for most of the day and night.

The plaintiffs’ case includes video footage of Ringling employees repeatedly hitting elephants with bullhooks, as well as 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.” Plaintiffs also have newly obtained evidence 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.

“This trial will shine the spotlight on the abuse occurring behind the big top at Ringling,” says Nicole Paquette, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Born Free USA. “Parents and their children should be outraged at how these animals are treated, bloodied with bullhooks and confined with chains and in small boxcars day in and day out. Since when does animal abuse — of an endangered species no less — qualify as family entertainment?”

In Los Angeles, in January of this year, a set of permit requirements were approved for circuses and other exhibitors displaying wild animals such as elephants, lions, tigers and bears. The requirement addressed public safety and animal welfare concerns with the use of such animals. After an L.A. elephant act was denied a permit in March, the city significantly weakened these requirements due in part to pressure from the circus industry, including Ringling Bros.

“For the city of Los Angeles to be truly humane it must establish strict permitting standards that make animal welfare a priority,” says Catherine Doyle, Campaign Director for In Defense of Animals. “If Ringling truly is the Greatest Show on Earth it should not oppose requirements that help protect animals in entertainment. What are they trying to hide?”

Animal advocates are planning a large protest of Ringling’s opening night in L.A. at Staples Center. The protest will be tonight at 7:00pm at the Staples Center north entrance on Chick Hearn Court.

Born Free USA is a national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the U.S. and globally including caring for more than 500 nonhuman primates at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary near San Antonio, TX.

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization located in San Rafael, CA, dedicated to protecting animals’ rights, welfare, and habitat through education, outreach, and its hands-on rescue facilities in Mumbai, India, Cameroon, Africa, and rural Mississippi.


Zibby Wilder, Born Free USA, 916.267.7266
Catherine Doyle, In Defense of Animals, 323.301.5730

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