The Spectacle Blog

Elephants Defeat Animal Activists?

By on 12.29.12 | 7:39AM

I like elephants. I’ve viewed them in the wild in Africa and ridden them inThailand. I’ve also seen them in a circus and a zoo. Forced to choose, I prefer the first two experiences. But most Americans don’t get those opportunities. So it’s circus/zoo or nothing.

Twelve years ago the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals filed suit against Feld Entertainment, which produces Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, charging animal cruelty. I have no independent information on the truth of the allegations, but ASPCA just put out a curious press release on the suit: “this litigation stopped being about the elephants a long time ago. After more than a decade of litigating with Feld Entertainment, the ASPCA concluded that it is in the best interests of the organization to resolve this expensive, protected litigation.”

All well and good. But ASPCA doesn’t explain how a lawsuit about elephants stopped being about elephants.  And the group doesn't detail the resolution. You have to go to Feld Entertainment’s press release for that: “Under the settlement, ASPCA has paid Feld Entertainment $9.3 million to settle all claims related to its part in more than a decade of manufactured litigation that attempted to outlaw elephants in the company’s Ringling Bros. Circus.”

Normally the plaintiff doesn’t pay the defendant in a settlement. In the usual compromise you’d expect ASPCA to drop the suit in return for Feld agreeing to change its treatment of the elephants, toss some cash at the ASPCA, support an African game reserve, that sort of thing. But no. Something obviously went very wrong with ASPCA’s claim. The group surrendered, paying a ransom to get out of the mess. It looks like the Society was caught abusing the legal process.

And the saga is not over. Explained the company: “Feld Entertainment’s legal proceedings, including its claims for litigation abuse and racketeering, will continue against the remaining defendants, Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA, Tom Rider and the attorneys involved.” Now that the ASPCA has paid up, some of these other groups might follow suit. Which would undermine their credibility in promoting an eminently worthy cause, the humane treatment of animals.

I like elephants. I don’t like abuse of the legal system. It appears that both causes triumphed with the ASPCA settlement.

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