It has taken eight years, but Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are heading to a non-jury trial over cruelty allegations related to its treatment of its elephants. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, and other plaintiffs allege that company’s use of sharp tools called bullhooks and the prolonged use of chains on the Asian elephants. The case is an interesting use of the federal Endangered Species Act rather than the usual animal cruelty statutes.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has set the trial for roughly three weeks. The company’s insist that federal regulations allow the use of chains and that such restraints are for the animals safety, particularly during transportation. Bullhooks (sometimes called an ankus or ankusha), long a controversial tool, is defended as the traditional tool used by elephant trainers for centuries. PETA released a video of Ringling elephant trainer Troy Metzler, known as “Captain Hook” using a bullhook on an elephant in a cruel fashion, here.
The plaintiffs insist that the average of more than 26 straight hours is cruel. They have also included the evidence of a whistleblower, a former Ringling Bros. employee who recounted acts of cruelty that he witnessed.
The plaintiffs alleged that the alleged abuse violates the “take” provision of the ESA.
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