[UPDATED with PETA Response:] Ringling Bros. Says It'll Put Its Protection of Elephants Up Against PETA's Efforts Any Time
Photo by Keith May/OC Weekly

[UPDATED with PETA Response:] Ringling Bros. Says It'll Put Its Protection of Elephants Up Against PETA's Efforts Any Time

UPDATE, JULY 27, 1:53 P.M.: Call this the battle of the dueling spokespeople: Amanda Schinke of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) today emailed the Weekly a letter responding to comments made in the original post (after the jump) by Trudy Williams of Feld Entertainment on behalf of its Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Williams was reacting to a just-ended PETA protest over the treatment of elephants performing at Anaheim's Honda Center tonight through Aug. 7.

Here is Schinke's letter:

Dear Matt,

I'm writing regarding your recent story about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ("Ringling Bros. Says It'll Put Up Its Protection of Elephants Against PETA's Efforts Any Time"), which contained inaccurate statements from Ringling's spokesperson. I'd like to address these errors and ask that you please update your story to include a response from PETA.

Ringling tries very hard to conceal the truth about the violent methods it uses to "train" its elephants. Contrary to the claims made in your story by Ringling's spokesperson, at our protests, we show 100 percent authentic photos taken at Ringling's Florida training facility that reveal how baby elephants with Ringling are prematurely torn away from their mothers, stretched out, slammed to the ground, gouged with bullhooks, and shocked with electric prods--all just to teach them the physically grueling and confusing tricks seen in a circus routine. These photos were given to PETA by a veteran animal trainer, and you can view all the photos--some of which were published in The Washington Post --here.

Would-be circus-goers are turning away from Ringling not because they don't want their children exposed to "ugly photos," but because they don't support the ugly truth--that Ringling beats its animals into performing. At PETA's recent protest in Los Angeles--which, in fact, had more than 500 protesters--a family of four tore up their tickets after watching this undercover video footage.

Finally, it's worth noting that Ringling Bros. does absolutely nothing to help elephants in the wild. Fifty-seven of the approximately 62 elephants owned by Ringling in 1990 were captured in the wild, and the elephants at Ringling's breeding center are bred only to be used in the circus. At least 29 elephants, including four babies, have died since 1992.

Please let me know if you will be able to update your story to include PETA's response. We invite you to please contact us directly for comment in the future if you will be covering our campaign against Ringling Bros.' abuse of animals. Thank you very much for your consideration.

Amanda Schinke
Media Writer
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

ORIGINAL POST, JULY 27, 8:48 A.M.: Elephants that perform in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus departed a train and walked to their temporary digs adjacent to Anaheim's Honda Center Monday for the engagement that begins tonight and continues through Aug. 7.

Also arriving like clockwork: the opening-day demonstration by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

From 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., PETA members and sympathizers plan to demonstrate near South Douglass Road and East Katella Avenue, reads an Action Team Alert from the Norfolk, VA-based animal rights group.

"Your presence will make a world of difference to frightened baby elephants who are cruelly bound with ropes and wrestled into confusing and physically difficult positions in order to learn circus 'tricks,'" read the plea. "As they scream, cry, and struggle, they are stretched out, slammed to the ground, struck with bullhooks, and shocked with electric prods."

Needless to say, Ringling Bros. overlord Feld Entertainment denies the allegations and the reasoning behind the protest.

Spokeswoman Trudy Williams confides to the Weekly that, yes, ropes are used to control elephants, as they are used to "manage" just about all large show animal. But she calls the accusations of abuse groundless, claiming images shown "out of context" in PETA-posted videos only cover a small slice of the lives of performing elephants.

Indeed, Williams believes the PETA protests, which follow Ringling Bros. around the country, mask the real goal of the animal activists: "Their only goal is they don't want animals performing--period. Elephants are our biggest stars, they draw the biggest attention, and PETA says we don't want animals performing, or people fishing or hunting or eating cheese."

The protests draw much attention, Williams says, because PETA puts out "big volume." The day we spoke, PETA had protested a Ringling Bros. stop in Los Angeles, announcing beforehand via Facebook that 800 to 900 demonstrators would show up. Williams says a liberal count would have put 300 protesters there. (But the amount of coverage: priceless!)

Williams says she feels sympathy for audience members, especially those with young children, who are subjected to shocking animal images. "They are holding up pictures of elephants lying dead in Africa that they found on the Internet," Williams claimed. She believes the protests have worked in turning away some patrons, who have informed Ringling Bros. they now only attend events like the train walk--and not the shows--lest their children be exposed to ugly photos.

The spokeswoman ended with the usual Feld spiel: that the family owned company has veterinarians traveling with the circus and others on retainer in tour cities; that the circus is subjected to local, state and federal inspections; that it protects endangered Asian elephants at its Florida ranch; that the company funds and actively participates in research aimed at protecting the beasts in their natural habitats; and that it raises awareness of diseases hitting herds like elephant herpes.

In fact, Williams said she would gladly put up the time, money and resources Feld has to protect elephants against whatever PETA has done any time.


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