For all the families who have yet to take their children to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus — hurry. The company announced recently that its storied elephant act will no longer appear in thetraveling circus as of 2018.
This decision has been met with disappointment by people like myself who value the wholesome entertainment that the circus provides, and bristle at hysterical attacks by animal rights extremists. Groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), on the other hand, have cheered the decision and claimed victory in the long fight against elephants in the circus. This, in their view, is a major victory in their broader war against any human ownership of animals.
But those, like me, whose initial reaction was anger at Ringling Bros. and its parent company, Feld Entertainment, for "capitulating" to animal rights activists should consider placing the blame on the activists themselves. By engaging Feld in aperpetual stream of litigation and proposed bans, activists were able to distract the company from its core competency — family entertainment — until those distractions became too onerous.
What's particularly obnoxious about the litigation brought on by radical animal rights groups, including the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), is that it was summarily dismissed in court. In fact, these plaintiffs ended up paying Feld for bringing such outrageous claims. Just last year, the Humane Society and other animal rights groups paid a $15.75 million settlement to Feld after their lawsuit alleging elephant abuse was found without merit.
Two years earlier, the ASPCA was ordered to pay Feld $9.3 million after making false claims against the company in court. These groups aren't just having their claims thrown out; they're so egregious that they are compensating Feld and Ringling Bros. for their misdeeds.
So the claims by these animal rights extremists against Ringling Bros. have been shown in court to be a total fraud, and claims that the "Greatest Show on Earth" is harmful to animals have been debunked repeatedly in court, as well as in the court of public opinion.
But the threats of further litigation didn't stop. Activists publicly admit that it doesn't really matter if you're successful in court — the act of suing is a useful irritant that costs your adversary time, money and focus, and gets them to give in, even if the underlying litigation is without merit. . In fact, here, Feld conceded that the non-stop litigation andcosts of opposing regulatory threats in localities around the country were integral to the Feld family's decision to retire the 13 currently performing Asian elephants from the traveling circus.
The suit against Ringling Bros. is just one of a long and colorful list. I will mention just a few other animal rights zealot's efforts here. PETA condemned the Pokémon media franchise because the video game "paints a rosy picture of what amounts to thinly veiled animal abuse," PETA filed suit in federal court in Southern California seeking to declare that SeaWorld's whales are being held in slavery in violation of the 13th Amendment. The failed litigation sought a court-ordered release of the whales "from bondage." CNN reported that the suit sought "a permanent order against holding them in slavery, as well as appointment of a legal guardian to carry out the transfer of the whales to a suitable habitat." The Animal Legal Defense Fund is planning to sue a Napa restaurant for serving foie gras during a now-overturned ban on foie gras.
The irony here is that Ringling Bros. has done far more to preserve Asian elephants' on planet earth than the flailing animal rights groups. They, instead, are popping corks that children can't see elephants in the circus anymore, and I'm certain will continue their tried and true pattern of focusing their time, energy and resources ginning up lawsuits or other bogus attacks on human interaction with animals — impacting the ability of companies and governments who come under their scrutiny from focusing on their missions. Sadly, I guess that's the point.
Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.