Circus Must Answer Animal Cruelty Charges
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By SAM HANANEL, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The nation's largest circus will have to defend itself against charges that it mistreats elephants that perform under the big tent.
A federal judge has declined to dismiss a lawsuit by animal welfare groups claiming Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has abused Asian elephants in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The groups claim circus employees routinely beat the elephants with sharp bull hooks, keep elephants in chains for long periods of time and forcibly remove baby elephants from their mothers before they are properly weaned.
The suit was filed in 2000 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals and Tom Rider, a former Ringling Bros. elephant trainer.
In his decision Wednesday, U.S District Judge Emmet Sullivan said the case in Washington can go forward because Asian elephants are considered an endangered species under federal law. He did not rule on the substantive charges.
A lawyer for Ringling Bros. declined comment Thursday and referred questions to the company, which did not immediately respond. The company, part of Vienna, Va.-based Feld Entertainment, Inc., repeatedly has claimed it is a responsible animal care provider that is being targeted by animal rights groups for political reasons.
Animal welfare advocates said the decision will finally allow them to present evidence that circus life is not fun and games for the animals performing.
"The public deserves to know the truth about the routine animal cruelty that goes on under the 'Big Top,'" Michael Markarian, President of The Fund for Animals, said in a statement.