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For Immediate Release: 01/06/09

Ringling Bros. circus opens Tampa show under cloud of federal lawsuit

Animal advocates accuse circus of cruelty to elephants

TAMPA, FL — As Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey circus prepares for the January 7 opening of its new show in Tampa, Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free USA) is preparing for a landmark legal showdown against the circus giant, which stands accused of abusing endangered Asian elephants in violation of federal law.

Born Free USA, along with three other national animal protection organizations and a former Ringling employee, is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against Ringling for violating the Endangered Species Act by mistreating the endangered Asian Elephants in its care. After years of delay, the trial will force Ringling to finally answer allegations of elephant abuse in open court.

“This trial will reveal the hidden abuse occurring behind the big top at Ringling,” says Nicole G. Paquette, Esq., a witness in the case and senior vice president and general counsel for Born Free USA. “I am confident that all compassionate American citizens will be outraged when they learn how these animals are treated: repeatedly hit and prodded with bullhooks and shackled on chains for hours on end, day in and day out. Since when does animal abuse — of an endangered species no less — qualify as family entertainment?”

Born Free USA’s case includes video footage of Ringling employees repeatedly hitting elephants with bullhooks (a heavy stick with a sharp steel hook on the end), as well as Ringling’s own internal written documents that graphically describe 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 reveal that the elephants are chained while confined in boxcars for an average of more than 26 hours at a time, and sometimes for 60–100 hours, as the circus moves across the country.

“The information that will be released as a result of our lawsuit will help the American public, especially parents spending their hard-earned family-entertainment dollars, to make a truly informed decision about whether the circus treats animals appropriately,” Paquette added. “We know the answer — the circus is no place for an elephant. Abusing elephants with bullhooks and chains is simply unconscionable.”

Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute is a leading national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the US and globally through legislation, litigation and public education. Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader on exotic animal legislation and a member of the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition and the Species Survival Network. More information can be found at www.bornfreeusa.org/ringling</em>


Zibby Wilder, Born Free USA, 916.267.7266

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