Animal Law

Circus Accused of Elephant Cruelty in Trial Beginning Today

An elephant abuse lawsuit against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is a major test of protections for captive animals under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The suit by animal welfare groups seeks an injunction to stop the circus from chaining the elephants, using sharp tools called bullhooks to train them and housing the animals in cramped quarters, the New York Times reports. The trial begins today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The suit claims Ringling Bros. practices violate the law’s ban on “harming,” “harassing,” or “wounding” an endangered animal, Legal Times reports. Michigan State law professor David Favre told the legal publication that the suit seeks to break new ground by applying the Endangered Species Act to wild animals in captivity rather than their natural habitat. “The ESA until now has more or less dealt with nameless animals in the wild,” he said.

Ringling Bros. is represented by Fulbright & Jaworski, the Legal Times story says. The circus maintains its animals are treated humanely and says the plaintiffs are suing under parts of the statute that weren’t intended to apply to animals in captivity.

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