Ringling Bros. Testimony About Bullhooks
Jan. 25, 2013
by Jim Myers
A recent court settlement between Ringling Bros. and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals resulted in a payment of $9.3 million by the animal welfare group to circus owner Feld Entertainment.
The original suit brought by the ASPCA, a former Ringling Bros. employee and other organizations was dismissed, as was the appeal. Ringling Bros. then countersued the organizations using racketeering laws to claim that Tom Rider, the principal witness, was nothing more than a paid informant.
“This case lasted 12 years and we spent $22 million defending ourselves, and all because they created this. As I said at the outset, we didn’t look for this. Going to court is not our business. Our business is creating live family entertainment,” said Steve Payne, spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“So, a decade later, as well as during all of this time, this vitriol and hatred by these organizations at the people who care for our animals is just abhorrent,” Payne added.
While the settlement was considered a tremendous blow among the ranks of animal welfare organizations, they do point out what they consider to be damning testimony, again, framing the argument that physical correction with bullhooks is more about abusive control than humane training.
Below are selected transcripts of testimony given in 2009 by Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, and Gary Jacobson, general manager of the Center for Elephant Conservation.
Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, parent company that owns Ringling Bros., Trial Tr. 34:25-35:11, March 3, 2009:
Q. And you have seen Ringling Brothers’ employees strike elephants with bullhooks, haven’t you?
A. Strike, hit, touch, tap, yes. Whatever the terminology is you’d like to use, yes.
Q. And you’ve seen them, Ringling Brothers employees, use the hooked end of the bullhook to prod elephants behind the ears, haven’t you?
A. I’ve seen them use both sides of the bullhook behind the ear of the elephant, yes.
Q. And you have also seen Ringling Brothers employees strike elephants under the chin with a bullhook, haven’t you?
Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, parent company that owns Ringling Bros., Trial Tr. 41:18-41:24, March 3, 2009:
Q. The elephant is reminded that when I say, when the handler says “pick up your head,” you better pick up your head or you’re going to get hit with that bullhook again, isn’t that correct?
A. It may or may not be. I believe it may be correct.
Q. Now, you also agree that discipline is currently used to handle the elephants at Feld Entertainment, isn’t that correct?
A. I think so, yes.
Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, parent company that owns Ringling Bros., Trial Tr. 43:9-43:16, March 3, 2009:
Q. Well, now I’m getting confused, because you said “touch” is synonymous with “strike,” so if I said that would mean all of your handlers also strike elephants with bullhooks, correct?
A. If you want to put in that phrase. I said they’re all verbs, so I guess you could say yes.
Q. So you’re aware that all of your elephant handlers strike elephants with bullhooks, correct?
A. Yes, um-hmm.
Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, parent company that owns Ringling Bros., Trial Tr. 50:16-51:2, March 3, 2009:
Q. Actually I’d like to call that testimony up, if I could. That would be Mr. Ridley’s (elephant handler on Blue Unit) deposition at line 55 — Page 55, line 20. This was a deposition given by Mr. Ridley on Aug. 25, 2006.
Q. OK. How often do you see puncture wounds caused by bullhooks?
A Probably three to four times a month. That’s with the whole herd of elephants.
Q. And where do you typically see those puncture wounds?
A. Under the chin. Occasionally on the back of the leg.
Gary Jacobson, general manager for Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, Trial Tr. 71:12-71:19 March 5, 2009:
Q. How often are guides used with the free contact elephants at Feld Entertainment?
A. Really, not very much.
Q. And when do the handlers at Feld Entertainment carry the guides?
A. They always have one if they have an elephant loose.
Q. Why is that?
A. It is the only way you can stay safe.
Gary Jacobson, general manager for Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, Trial Tr. 43:13-44:14 March 9, 2009:
Q. And after the baby elephants are separated from their mothers, another part of the training of the young elephants is to teach them what a bullhook is, correct?
Q. All right. And you’re responsible for training the baby elephants to know how to respond to the bullhook, aren’t you?
Q. And isn’t it true that as part of the training process, the baby elephants are hit with bullhooks?
A. Not as part of a training process, no.
Q. OK. Well, you call it correction, right?
Q. Part of the correction process, the baby elephants are hit with bullhooks, right?
Q. All right. And that’s to correct their behavior, right?
Q. All right. And when you say “correct,” you mean getting the elephant to comply with your wishes, is that right?
Q. For example, Benjamin was hit with a bullhook during the training process, wasn’t he?
A. He would have, yes.
Q. And in addition to hitting the elephants with a bullhook, another way to correct them is to tie them up, put them in chains, right?
A. It can be.
Gary Jacobson, general manager for Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, Trial Tr. 45:14-46:2 March 9, 2009:
Q. And in fact, isn’t it true that you have never videotaped any of your training sessions when were you actually teaching the elephants how to do their commands for the first time?
A. We do not normally video, no.
Q. You’ve never done it, have you?
A. I don’t think so, no.
Q. And in fact, you would not let the public relations department or any other department of Feld Entertainment to come down there and videotape one of those training sessions, would you?
A. We normally do not video.
Q. You wouldn’t let the P.R. department come down and do it, would you?
A. Probably not.
Links to trial transcripts of Feld‘s and Jacobson’s testimony:
Kenneth Feld : http://c206729.r29.cf1.rackcdn.com/03-03-09_Trial.pdf
Gary Jacobson: http://c206729.r29.cf1.rackcdn.com/03-05-09_Trial_-_Afternoon_Session.pdf
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