Circus battles “animal special interest groups”

Pub date February 4, 2009
SectionPolitics Blog

By Steven T. Jones

I’m still waiting for the dispatch from our correspondent at opening day of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephant abuse trial, which I’ll probably post in the morning. But for now, I wanted to offer circus owner Feld Entertainment’s side of the story, which seems to center on the notion that this is all about “animal special interest groups.”
That phrase peppers the press release that was put out by Feld Entertainment, clearly hoping to capitalize on the “special interest” pejorative that has been coined and hammered home by conservative political forces over the last few decades.
“Animal special interest groups are distorting the facts by making false allegations about the treatment of Ringling Bros. elephants as part of a long-running crusade to eliminate animals from circuses, zoos and wildlife parks. Feld Entertainment will show during the trial that its elephants are healthy, alert, and thriving, and it intends to debunk the misinformation that has been spread by those who do not own or know how to care for an elephant,” wrote Michelle Pardo of Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., which is representing Feld Entertainment in the case.
It’s certainly true that most animal welfare groups don’t think endangered Asian elephants should be performing in circuses, doing stunts they say can only be coerced with abusive treatment, and many are opposed to them being displayed in zoos. But the opening day testimony reportedly included that of Dr. Joyce Poole, who is an expert in caring for elephants and who, according to a plaintiffs’ press statement, “testified that it’s her expert opinion that Ringling Bros.’ routine practices do in fact harass as well as harm the animals.”
But the defendants don’t agree and say they’re “prepared to refute the meritless allegations of animal special interest groups.”