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ASPCA Pays Ringling Bros. in Elephant Lawsuit

Want to know the truly nutty part about this story, it is that the Amer­i­can Soci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion to Cru­elty to Ani­mals (a legit ani­mal rights orga­ni­za­tion not known for being crazy like the gang at PeTA) were ini­tially the plain­tiffs in this case over a decade ago.

I’m not a lawyer, but some­thing had to come up in the dis­cov­ery phase which caused atti­tudes to change.

An ani­mal rights group will pay Rin­gling Bros. and Bar­num & Bai­ley Cir­cus $9.3 mil­lion to set­tle a law­suit the cir­cus filed after courts found that activists paid a for­mer cir­cus worker for his help in claim­ing the cir­cus abused elephants.

The Amer­i­can Soci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to Ani­mals said Fri­day it was not admit­ting any wrong­do­ing in set­tling the law­suit. The New York-based ani­mal rights group was one of sev­eral involved in a law­suit filed in 2000 against the cir­cus’ owner, Feld Enter­tain­ment Inc., claim­ing ele­phants were abused. Courts later found that the ani­mal rights activists had paid a for­mer Rin­gling barn helper involved in the law­suit at least $190,000, mak­ing him “essen­tially a paid plain­tiff” who lacked credibility.

Two courts agreed the for­mer barn helper, Tom Rider, wasn’t cred­i­ble and didn’t have a right to sue. As a result, they didn’t address claims the cir­cus vio­lated the fed­eral Endan­gered Species Act by allegedly chain­ing the ele­phants for long peri­ods and allow­ing train­ers to use sharp tools called bullhooks.

The Vienna, Va.-based Feld Enter­tain­ment Inc. sued the ani­mal rights groups and Rider in 2007, accus­ing them of con­spir­ing to harm the company’s busi­ness and other ille­gal acts. The law­suit claims the groups were work­ing together with the goal of per­ma­nently ban­ning Asian ele­phants from circuses.

Friday’s set­tle­ment cov­ers only the ASPCA. Twelve other defen­dants includ­ing The Humane Soci­ety of the United States, the Ani­mal Wel­fare Insti­tute and The Fund for Ani­mals are still involved in the lawsuit.

Ani­mal rights groups have been tar­get­ing the use of ele­phants in a num­ber of cir­cuses for years, most of it based on the infor­ma­tion Rider has given them.  Since then, it has become a cause celeb with the Hol­ly­wood set with attempts to get the cir­cus banned in as many cities as they can.

They’ve made so much head­way (six South­ern Cal­i­for­nia cities already ban cir­cus ele­phants) in these efforts that just last week, Los Ange­les was said to be con­sid­er­ing an all-out ban on cir­cuses with ele­phants in them.

I’m against any cru­elty to ani­mals on prin­ci­ple.  You have to have some sort of evil in your heart to will­ingly abuse, neglect and attack an ani­mal.  That being said, it seem incred­i­bly counter-productive for cir­cuses — who need their ele­phants healthy and per­form­ing at their best — to will­ingly abuse their animals.

With this being poten­tially the first of what could be many set­tle­ments Rin­gling Bros. could be get­ting from ani­mal rights groups, you have to start won­der­ing if they’ve over-played their hand here and by how much.  If they had over-whelming proof of abuse against the ele­phants, then why do they need to pay a man to tes­tify that it was going on?

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