PETA has asked the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office to immediately release records related to the city’s decision to allow the Ringling Bros. circus to force ailing elephants to perform during its recent stint at the Staples Center despite expert advice to the contrary and despite apparently breaching the city’s own laws.
When Ringling came to L.A. this summer, the city brought in an independent elephant expert to determine whether the elephants used by the troupe were fit to perform. Dr. Philip Ensley—associate veterinarian for the Zoological Society of San Diego for 29 years—issued a critical report after inspecting the elephants.
He advised, among other things, that two of Ringling’s elephants “should be removed from performing” since “Karen and most likely Nichole as well, suffer from arthritis, which results in chronic pain, impaired limb function, and are in effect crippled” and that five other elephants should be removed from performing if Ringling failed to improve their standard of care because of their histories of foot, toenail, and musculoskeletal issues, including at least one elephant who “suffers from … ongoing chronic foot problems.”
Dr. Ensley concluded his report by noting that the inspected elephants “suffer unneeded existing detrimental medical conditions and should not participate in forced, non species-typical behaviors that are repetitive rigorous physical activities”—in other words, typical circus routines—“under the current standard of care and living conditions.”
Los Angeles law prohibits the city from issuing a permit to any circus with animals unless it has first conducted an investigation and determined “that animals will not be subject to needless suffering, unnecessary cruelty or abuse” and that the circus will not violate any state or local law. Los Angeles regulations also prohibit keeping crippled or painfully diseased animals in the city.
What’s more, California law requires that animals who are “unfit for labor” are not to be used in any way, including in performances, and prohibits subjecting any animal to needless suffering. But despite these clear guidelines and Dr. Ensley’s unequivocal findings, the city issued a permit to Ringling and allowed it to illegally force these suffering, unfit, crippled elephants to perform.
Less Than Full Disclosure
In an effort to determine why this decision was made, PETA submitted a public records request to the Mayor’s Office. After delaying a response, the office provided some records but withheld an undisclosed number of records. PETA believes that the withholding of at least some of these records may have been unlawful since the reasons given for not releasing the records don’t apply when the public interest favors disclosure.
The reasons for approving a permit for Ringling to use elephants—whom the city knew from its own expert to be unfit and suffering from chronic pain—against city law are clearly of interest to the public, especially at a time when the Los Angeles City Council is considering legislation to protect elephants used in circuses. This information is also of interest to PETA, whose campaigners are working nonstop to end Ringling’s abuse and exploitation of animals, so the group has demanded the release of the improperly withheld records and will consider taking legal action if denied.
What You Can Do
Even animal-protection laws as seemingly clear as Los Angeles’ don’t always do the job. Please start a legislative effort to completely ban circuses and other traveling exhibits in your town or county. And if a circus with animals is scheduled to perform in your town, make sure that you’re ready.