Thursday, December 22, 2011

Both Sides of the Story

Editorial - Los Angeles Times

Ringling Bros., they're elephants, not clowns

Feld Entertainment Inc. will pay $270,000 to settle complaints about its treatment of circus animals. But the real solution would be to stop using elephants in performances.

December 2, 2011

The company behind the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $270,000 as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. The agreement noted that more than a dozen inspections had resulted in reports of noncompliance with regulations, from improper fencing to temporarily losing control over an animal to allowing a zebra to escape. The USDA had also launched four investigations into the circus over the last two years, according to a spokesman, that might have led to findings of more serious violations before the settlement ended all inquiry.

Although the fee is the highest ever assessed against an animal exhibitor under the welfare statute, it's peanuts for the circus. And Feld Entertainment Inc. did not admit wrongdoing but pledged to institute mandatory animal welfare training for all employees and to designate a compliance officer.

Those are conscientious moves, but Feld should do more. For a decade, animal welfare groups have filed lawsuits and federal complaints against the circus for its handling of exotic animals, particularly elephants, contending that the circus chains them for hours, subjects them to arduous road travel and uses bull hooks to make them comply with commands. The time is long past for elephants in the circus ring. For their part, Feld officials have vigorously defended their operation's concern for animal welfare. The company's website says the elephants are well housed, transported and cared for, and perform a scant hour or two on show days. In addition, Feld proudly says it is breeding endangered Asian elephants at its conservation center in Florida.

If Feld officials care as much as they say they do about animals — particularly the planet's largest land mammals — they should retire them from performance. Short of that, they should retire from the road any elephants suffering from arthritis — the plague of captive, older elephants.

At a time when zoos are spending millions to find better ways to care for elephants — building them extensive habitats and minimizing or even forbidding unobstructed contact with keepers, thus eliminating the need for bull hooks for protection — this would be a good time for Feld to stop selling the old-school animal circus. Until that time, circus patrons who find animal acts troubling can register their displeasure by not attending. If they want to see a pachyderm, Tina, Jewel and Billy are at the Los Angeles Zoo every day.


Response to Editorial

Ringling Bros.: Why we're good for elephants

December 7, 2011
By: Janice Aria, director of animal stewardship for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, responds to The Times' Dec. 2 editorial, "Ringling Bros., they're elephants, not clowns
For more than 141 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been showcasing the most amazing talent from around the world: clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers and more can all be seen when "The Greatest Show On Earth" comes to town. Animals have always been an integral part of Ringling Bros. throughout the years, and they are consistently one of the main reasons families keep coming back, year after year.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey animals are inspected by animal welfare officials in nearly every city we visit. There were 45 inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- in addition to inspections by state and local governments -- from Jan. 4, 2007 to Aug. 25, 2011. This past summer, while in California, our circus had more than 80 inspections by federal, state and local authorities.

None of these inspections found any incidents of inappropriate use of the guide (or "bullhook"). The guide is a necessary tool in elephant husbandry, and it is accepted and used all over the world in elephant care. This tool also allows for the very best veterinary care. Animal-activist groups have distorted the recent USDA settlement agreement as an attempt to further their long-running crusade, bringing up the unfounded allegations of mistreatment by our handlers with a tool they have demonized.

Ringling Bros. resolved the disputed regulatory issues in the agreement with the USDA. We stand by our animal-care program and our people, and we do not admit any wrongdoing. Instead, this is a business decision to resolve our differences instead of engaging in costly and protracted litigation with the federal agency that holds our license to do business. This agreement demonstrates that there are already government regulations and laws in place to help ensure the humane treatment for all animals involved in public display.

Activist groups that distribute misleading information about animal care at Ringling Bros. will never be satisfied with animals being presented to the public, no matter how well they are cared for by Ringling Bros.

Anyone who comes to Ringling Bros. can see that the animals are healthy and thriving in their environment. The full-time Ringling Bros. staff of veterinarians (with specialties ranging from neo-natal to geriatric care) are a critical component of the healthcare plan for all the animals touring on our circus units and at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Moreover, zoos all over the country regularly call our veterinary team for help and advice on their own animals.

While it is true that some elephants in zoos and circuses, like some people, develop arthritis, it is also true that exercise and a physically active lifestyle is the best prescription, and that is what our elephants receive. It is among the reasons that circus elephants tend to live longer on average than their counterparts in zoos

At Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros., we are making a difference in the conservation of the endangered Asian elephant. We have donated more than $1.5 million to groups and projects to help conserve this magnificent animal. We are a founding member of the International Elephant Foundation; we consistently donate to research projects, including the Smithsonian Institution's study on the endotheliotropic herpes viruses; and we established the annual International Conference and Research on Tuberculosis in Elephants. We also support zoos and stationary institutions by providing suitable companion elephants to facilities whose elephant herds are diminishing in population, as well as helping researchers in range countries minimize elephant-human conflict

Everyone with Ringling Bros. has been and remains dedicated to two goals: providing for the care and well-being of Asian elephants and all of Ringling Bros.' animals, and producing the very best in live family entertainment that can only be found at "The Greatest Show On Earth." Our commitment to those two goals will never waiver.

-- Janice Aria

Courtesy of John Goodall

"If they want to see a pachyderm, Tina, Jewel and Billy are at the Los Angeles Zoo every day."

'Somebody needs to ask the LA Times editor if they know what major California zoo was involved in one of the major elephant controversies of the past decade, coming within a hairs breath of closing down their elephant program due to activist pressure? A major issue was a solitary elephant being kept alone. In an unprecedented move, USDA confiscated two elephants, Tina and Jewel from private hand's and gave them to the above mentioned zoo, quieting critic's of the "no solitary elephants" way of thinking. Janice pointed out Ringling's inspection reports. I wonder if the editor of the LA Times would be as gracious as pointing out the Los Angeles Zoo's inspection reports. I graciously provided a taste above. The editor suggests "arthritic" elephants should be taken off the road, suggesting put in a zoo. Make sure you click on the elephant Tara medical records above to read about an elephant who spent her life at the LA Zoo yet developed arthritis. Is the editor suggesting retiring "arthritic" elephants to an environment that creates the condition???? Note her condition worsens during "cold weather", yet Ed Stewart from PAWS has assured the Toronto City managers that it "doesn't get cold in California" thus Toronto's elephants would be better off there!!!!!!!

The LA Times editorial mentions "peanuts" in regards to the circus, "Although the fee is the highest ever assessed against an animal exhibitor under the welfare statute, it's peanuts for the circus," and also "At a time when zoos are spending millions to find better ways to care for elephants" with no mention of "peanuts". Rest assured the Ringling Bros. ECC was not built with "peanuts" and is not operated annually with said "peanuts". What is Los Angeles Zoo's option if they don't have "peanuts" to "spend millions to find better ways to care for elephants":


What is the option of a private company for securing "peanuts" to "spend millions to find better ways to care for elephants?"

The LA Times editorial mentions lawsuits, "For a decade, animal welfare groups have filed lawsuits and federal complaints against the circus for its handling of exotic animals, particularly elephants." I didn't think that was necessary, but as the editor brought it up:

IDA Calls for Federal Investigation of Elephant's - Help Elephants (IDA)

Click here to read the full Grand Jury Complaint.

Like a divorce, there is his side and her side. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.'

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