Elephants In Court

A federal court case scheduled to begin Feb. 4 is expected to determine if Feld Entertainment lovingly cares for its circus elephants, treats them like Dumbo’s mom or something in between.

Circus elephants have been a longstanding issue with animal rights groups, which claim the animals are mistreated. Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, claims the animals are treated like royalty.

The complaint says the circus’ Asian elephants sleep and travel in cramped quarters and are prodded, even bloodied, by clubs called bull hooks, according to the New York Times.

Feld reportedly says in court papers the elephants are “healthy and well cared for,” treated by veterinarians around the clock and have roomy, ventilated and sometimes heated living quarters. Ken Feld, CEO of the company, recently told Portfolio magazine the elephants are his “personal passion,” adding, “I love these animals.”

Plaintiffs – including the American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Fund For Animals – say Feld Entertainment has created the illusion that the animals are allowed to socialize and roam free.

Defendants claim the animal rights groups are misguided in bringing their case to court by invoking the Endangered Species Act, saying Congress never meant for the act to be applied to animals in captivity.

A defense attorney told the Times that Feld routinely passes inspections by federal, state and local authorities in its treatment of animals. Plaintiffs claim the inspections are rigged.

“In effect, [plaintiffs] are hoping to put an end to circus elephants,” the defense is reportedly arguing.

“We simply want the elephants to be treated humanely and in accordance with the law,” plaintiffs’ attorney Tracy Silverman told the Times. Her side wants Ringling Bros. “to stop hitting elephants with bull hooks and keeping them in chains” except for veterinary care or other legitimate purposes.

The case is expected to last three weeks.