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Circus Elephants: Abuse Case Settled, Restrictions Debated

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus artists and elephants perform during Barnum's FUNundrum in New York on March 26, 2010. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus artists and elephants perform during Barnum’s FUNundrum in New York on March 26, 2010. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the Humane Society and other animal rights activists paid $15 million to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, to settle a lawsuit alleging the circus abused its animals, but which was called “frivolous” by a judge hearing the case.

Because the case was settled, the courts never ruled on the question of animal abuse. One Virginia Congressman wants to limit circus use of animals.

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran has re-filed a bill to restrict the use of exotic animals by traveling circuses. He discusses the measure with Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Interview Highlights: U.S. Rep. Jim Moran

On the effect of the ruling on the cause

“It’s not really a setback. The conclusion was fairly predictable: the judge ruled that the animal welfare groups did not have standing to bring the case. The issue is still alive. I don’t consider it a defeat. It’s a bit of a setback, but it’s not one that we couldn’t have predicted.”

On educating people about treatment of animals in circuses

“I think all we can do is present the facts: they use these bullhooks, whips, metal pipes, kicks to the head. That’s how they get them to perform. And we have any number of cases where we have seen the animals have been confined for, in some cases, 98 percent of their life in a small, little cage.”

On circuses’ argument that they raise people’s animal awareness

“They should be aware of wild animals as they normally function in the wild. Their perception of an elephant or a lion or a tiger should not be standing on their hind legs, bouncing a ball.”

On the chance of his circus animal protection bill being passed

“It’s not impossible, but I know that there’s a lot of resistance to it. We can’t give up, because the animals can’t speak out for themselves.”

Guest

  • Jim Moran, Democratic U.S. Representative for Virginia’s 8th congressional district. He tweets @Jim_Moran.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Well, a 14-year legal battle over circus elephants is over. The Humane Society and other groups filed lawsuits against Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, alleging abuse of Asian elephants. A judge ruled those suits frivolous. The animals' rights groups are now paying out millions to Feld. And because the case was settled, the question of animal abuse was never decided.

Undaunted, Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran is pushing a bill to restrict the use of animals by traveling circuses. He is chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus and joins us now. And Congressman, isn't this ruling a setback for your cause?

REPRESENTATIVE JIM MORAN: It's not really a setback. The conclusion was fairly predictable: the judge ruled that the animal welfare groups did not have standing to bring the case. The issue is still alive. I don't consider it a defeat. It's a bit of a setback, but it's not one that we couldn't have predicted.

YOUNG: A setback. Well, it also isn't the first loss.

MORAN: That's right.

YOUNG: Previously it was discovered that a circus worker named Tom Rider(ph) was being paid by animal rights groups to testify, and then it was found that he was lying about his charges of abuse. And again, you say that there was a legal technicality here, but just on the face of it, here's a case in which a judge says claims of abuse in a lawsuit are frivolous. The public interpretation is going to be oh, animals are not being mistreated.

MORAN: Well, I think all we can do is present the facts. They use these bull hooks, whips, metal pipes, kicks to the head. That's how they get them to perform. And we have any number of cases where we have seen the animals have been confined for, in some cases, 98 percent of their life in a small, little cage. And...

YOUNG: Well in fact you can go to the PITA website, and you can see videos of elephants being horribly treated, hit by these bull hooks for no apparent reason. And we know that Feld Entertainment, we should say, was fined. They had a record fine in I believe 2011 for violating the Animal Welfare Act. So there is that on that side of the equation.

And it's also interesting, we're reading just today of David Balding. He was the man who produced circus shows. He was in the 2011 documentary "One Lucky Elephant," about his relationship with the elephant Flora. And he decided just what you're saying, because he loved this elephant, he could no longer have her in a circus. He let her go into an elephant sanctuary. These are the things you're talking about.

But what do you say to, for instance, Feld Entertainment's claims that, first of all, they're building an animal compound on their property in Florida for animals to live when they're not touring. And they also say, and other circuses do, as well, animals in the circus are making children aware of animals, they're helping to, you know, preserve them for future generations, helping people appreciate them. What do you say to that?

MORAN: They should be aware of wild animals as they normally function in the wild. Their perception of an elephant or a lion or a tiger should not be standing on their hind legs and bouncing a ball.

YOUNG: Well Congressman Moran, do you think you have any chance of passing your animal protection bill restricting the use of animals by traveling circuses?

MORAN: It's not impossible, but I know that there's a lot of resistance to it. We can't give up, because the animals can't speak out for themselves.

YOUNG: Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia. He's filed a bill to restrict the use of animals by traveling circuses and is chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus. Congressman Moran, thanks so much for your time.

MORAN: It's my pleasure.

YOUNG: And your thoughts, animals in the circus, go to hereandnow.org. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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