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Animal Rights Activists Confront Parents at Ringling Bros. Circus

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Cheryl Biren     Permalink
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Paraphrasing, she stated that when Feld was asked if striking an elephant was necessary, he responded "if that's your word" and acknowledged that the use of a bullhook (which McWethy said is used as a cue and also known as an ankus or guide) was necessary to manage the elephants in an open contact situation and that if "used inappropriately it could scratch an elephant where the elephant would bleed."

Regarding Bessey's mention of elephants spending up to 100 hours in box cars, McWethy corrected her stating, "They're not box cars. They're actually customized stock cars."

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"When they travel, the elephants for example, have enough room to lay down, stand up, they are tethered during transportation much like a seat belt for people. That's for their safety."

She went on to say that the cars are equipped with misting systems, food and water with a handler who looks after their needs. She said that depending on the route they sometimes make stops and the animals are exercised.

Activists routinely share the video below that is reported to be a Ringling Bros. Train in San Diego from August 2006.

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Also, at odds is the description of the treatment of the baby elephants. Bessey says that they are weaned early and disputes the official Ringling claims regarding training. "They say it's all positive reinforcement, it's all done through observing the baby elephant's natural behavior and incorporating that into a circus act. It actually says that on their website. But, there is so much information, documentation and photographs that directly contradict that."

Says McWethy, "They [protesters] will sometimes say that the elephants are weaned early. That is not true. They are weaned when they're ready to be weaned. The calves and the mothers make that decision." 

She described the close bond that the handlers have with the elephants from day one, much like with a family pet, and that the animals live in an environment where all of their needs are met.

"As a business," she said, "it would be foolish and disingenuous for us to be doing anything but take care of these animals. No one wants to see an animal protected that's not healthy, thriving and alert and I think that's something that goes a long way and I think that the people who attended the show in Philadelphia saw that."

"The trial record established," countered Bessey, "that the babies are forcibly taken with ropes, chains, another elephant and six or seven men from their mothers who are chained to the wall, at about 18 months, well before their mother has weaned them."

She added that Gary Jacobsen, the general manager of Ringling's Center for Conservation, testified that they don't let the PR department film the baby training sessions because it "would be hard to defend in the modern world."

"Weaning" said Bessey, "is when an offspring stops nursing. What Ringling does is forced separation."

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To drive her point home, Bessey directs the uninitiated to a video titled Ringling Bros. - Breaking a Baby Elephant.

In 2009, Ringling Bros. was compelled to respond to an investigation by PETA which culminated in a video showing handlers aggressively striking elephants before entering the ring for a performance.

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Cheryl Biren is a Philadelphia-based researcher, writer, editor and photographer. From 2007-2011, she served on the editorial board of

Cheryl has also consulted for the Rob Kall Radio Show with guests such as Noam Chomsky, (more...)

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