Suit accusing circus of abusing elephants goes to trial today

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -

A coalition of animal protection organizations is suing Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey to stop what they call harsh methods of training and controlling the circus's Asian elephants. The group argues that the chains and instruments shaped like fireplace pokers are inhumane and violate the Endangered Species Act.

In a trial that begins here today in U.S. District Court, lawyers for the plaintiffs will argue that Ringling abuses its elephants by using a hooked pole, or "bull hook," that punctures the animals' leathery hide behind the ears, under the trunk and on the legs, where skin is thinnest. The animal rights groups also allege that Ringling trainers chain the beasts together for 70 hours at a time.

"We're just looking to obtain humane treatment under the law for the Asian elephants that perform in the circus," said Tracy Silverman, a lawyer for the Animal Welfare Institute, one of the plaintiffs. "We're looking for a ruling that the use of bull hooks and the use of chains violate the Endangered Species Act."

Asian elephants are an endangered species. African elephants are considered "threatened."

Michelle Pardo, a lawyer for Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros., said the circus's elephants are "healthy, alert and thriving" and the circus regularly passes federal, state and local inspections.

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