Judge in Elephant Abuse Case Hears Closing Arguments

By David Betancourt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus opens tonight at Verizon Center, but its attorneys spent yesterday trying to convince U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan that the company doesn't abuse elephants.

"These people love these animals," said John Simpson, a lawyer for Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company, during closing arguments in a federal abuse case.

Animals rights groups have long accused circus companies of mistreating animals. The current case is nearing conclusion after eight years of legal battles by the Animal Welfare Institute along with several other animal welfare groups. They want to prevent Ringling from chaining the elephants or using bull hooks to control them as they move from town to town. Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of the Humane Society for the United States, said that Feld's own experts admitted to using bull hooks to train the animals and that video evidence shows the elephants chained.

Katherine Meyer, another animal rights attorney, said Feld frequently harmed, harassed and wounded its elephants with bull hooks. She clutched a hook in her right hand and said that the sharp edge causes the elephants to bleed.

But Simpson said the "guides" are needed.

"A guide is the only way to manage an elephant in a circus," Simpson said. "No witness said it was safe to run a circus without a guide."

Michelle Pardo, another lawyer on the Feld defense team, summed up its case this way: "We think they're wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. At the end of the day, the elephants are well taken care of. The evidence has not supported their claims."

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