A spokesman for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey said Wednesday he doubts Oklahomans will be scared away from the circus next month by recent legal action accusing the company of chaining its elephants for days at a time. A coalition of animal welfare groups says it has evidence that Ringling Bros. circus elephants are sometimes chained for days at a time, and the groups asked a judge Wednesday to halt the practice while a lawsuit comes to trial.
Hours spent in chainsIn federal court papers filed in Washington, the groups said Ringling Bros.' own train records show the Asian elephants are chained in box cars for an average of more than 26 straight hours and often 60 to 70 hours at a time when the circus travels. In some cases, the elephants have been chained on trains for 90 to 100 hours, court papers allege. The parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Feld Entertainment Inc., argues chaining elephants during transport is necessary and legal. Steve Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, said the elephants were restrained "for their own safety” in accordance with federal guidelines. He compared the restraints to seat belts and said the box cars are monitored by circus staff. But the plaintiffs' lead attorney, Katherine Meyer, said some of the elephants are spending more than half their lives in chains. "It's not fair. It's not humane, what kind of life these animals have to live in order to give a 12-minute performance,” Meyer said. The ASPCA is a plaintiff in the long-running lawsuit, along with the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals and the Animal Protection Institute. Payne said long chaining durations may have occurred in "extreme instances,” but he described Wednesday's legal request as an exaggeration. "The elephants spend the majority of their waking hours socializing, exercising — untethered,” he said. Payne said he doesn't think the case will keep people from visiting the circus at the Ford Center June 6-8. "We're not at all concerned,” Payne said. "Our audiences can see for themselves when they come to our shows how happy and healthy our animals are.” The company also plans to hold a pachyderm parade on June 4, when the 11 Asian elephants will be paraded from State Fair Park to the Cox Convention Center, where they can be viewed by ticket holders at the circus' animal open house. The elephants were unloaded from a train at SW 19 Street and Agnew and marched to State Fair Park on Wednesday. The lawsuit, alleging multiple violations of the Endangered Species Act, was filed in 2000.
What's next for case?Meyer said the judge handling the case is expected to hold a hearing on the injunction request within 20 days. There is still no date set for the start of the trial.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephants parade Reno Avenue near May Avenue on Wednesday. BY DAVID McDANIEL, THE OKLAHOMAN