March 18, 2009
Posted: 03:46 PM ET
WASHINGTON - When I was growing up during the thirties in Texarkana, Arkansas, the most exciting day of the year was when the circus came to town. That was because the elephants paraded through the streets, and then used their great strength to pull the ropes that raised the big tent.
Elephants from Ringling Bros. take part in the Pachyderm Parade to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Washington on March 17, 2009
I was in federal court Wednesday in the District of Columbia where a judge heard final arguments in a case that could spell the end of elephants in circuses. If young boys in the future want to see what elephants are like, they may have to look at pictures.
The case, brought by a coalition of animal rights groups, accuses the famous Ringling Bros. circus of abusing its elephants, by using club-like bull hooks to train and discipline the elephants, and by keeping them chained for long periods at a time.
Ringling Bros. insisted that it treats its elephants using customary procedures, and that they are well cared for and healthy.
As I listened to the arguments, I sensed that we were seeing the beginning of the end of elephants in the circus.
Ringling Bros. said bull hooks are the traditional way to control the huge animals. But if they don’t cause pain, how do they keep the elephants in line? Chaining the elephants may be the only way to transport them in railroad cars. But if this causes them discomfort, isn’t there a logic to putting an end to elephants as part of the traveling circus?
As well-intentioned and sincere as Ringling Bros. might be in using historic norms in dealing with its elephants, perhaps the result has been that the elephants have been subjected to cruelty all these years, while humans mostly paid no attention.
Today, the remarks of the judge seemed to hint that he would rule in favor of the animal rights side—at least to the extent of limiting the use of bull hooks. There are probably years of litigation yet to go, but it seems likely that elephants will never again help raise the big top in towns like Texarkana.
-Fred Graham, In Session senior editor
Filed under: Uncategorized
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