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May 15, 2014

Statement of The Fund for Animals and The Humane Society of the United States in Response to the Multi-Party Settlement with Feld Entertainment

Groups urge Feld to use settlement funds to protect wild elephants from poaching

The Fund for Animals and The Humane Society of the United States issued the following statement in response to the settlement announced between Feld Entertainment (the owner of the Ringling Bros. circus) and 12 other parties.

The HSUS and The Fund for Animals fight tirelessly to prevent the abuse and mistreatment of animals, including elephants by circuses, and will be stepping up that work in the months ahead.  Although The HSUS was never a plaintiff in the case against Ringling, we believe it was prudent for the parties to settle, because this court would never address the core claims of elephant abuse, and there would be significant cost in continuing to litigate. We expect that a substantial portion, if not all, of the settlement costs to The HSUS and The Fund for Animals will be covered by insurance, and in the end, that no donor dollars from The HSUS will go to Feld. We are also urging Feld Entertainment to devote the settlement money to help protect threatened and endangered elephants and combat the plague of poaching that is decimating wild populations. 

Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals said: “The court never ruled on the central question of the abuse of circus elephants in this 14-year-old case, and the groups and their lawyers decided to settle the cases and avoid incurring additional costs.”

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States added: “In the end, no donor dollars from The HSUS will go to Feld. But with the funds Feld is receiving, we urge the company to combat the killing of tens of thousands of elephants for their ivory. An additional $15 million can save countless elephants, by putting more armed guards on the ground or by working to reduce demand in ivory-consuming countries.”

If Feld Entertainment has a deep concern for elephants, as it has claimed in this case, then directing this money to programs to help elephants being mowed down by semiautomatic weapons every day would be the most tangible thing it could do to support that claim. “It would be a positive outcome for this long-running case if Feld directed these resources to the urgent effort to stem the elephant poaching crisis,” added Pacelle.

Background on the litigation

This settlement resolves the 14-year-old lawsuit over the mistreatment of endangered Asian elephants, which was filed in 2000 by the ASPCA, Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals, and later the Animal Protection Institute, with all groups represented by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a public interest law firm. The HSUS became affiliated with The Fund for Animals in 2005, several years after the case was filed, but The HSUS was never a party in the case. The settlement also resolves a countersuit brought by Feld against the plaintiffs, their counsel, and other non-parties including The HSUS.

Over the 14 years of litigation in this case, the court never ruled on the merits of the plaintiffs’ core claims of elephant abuse. The judge ruled none of the animal welfare groups had standing to bring the case—a legal technicality that must be cleared in order to get to the substance of the case. The animal protection groups appealed the dismissal, but got no different outcome.  The court also ruled that Feld was entitled to receive attorneys’ fees from the plaintiffs.

The Fund for Animals and The HSUS will continue to work to stop the mistreatment of elephants in traveling circuses. These highly intelligent animals, an endangered species under federal law, are often chained for a majority of their lives, shipped to dozens of cities a year, separated from their family groups, and often struck with bullhooks to force them to submit and perform unnatural tricks. The City of Los Angeles just this week banned the use of bullhooks on elephants, and Rhode Island is considering state legislation on the issue.

The ASPCA settled these lawsuits for $9.3 million in 2012, and the remaining 12 parties have now settled for a collective sum of $15.75 million. Fortunately, insurance proceeds are expected to cover a substantial portion, if not all, of the contributions toward that sum from The Fund for Animals and The HSUS.

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Media Contact: Heather Sullivan, 240.477.2251; hsullivan@humanesociety.org 

The Fund for Animals operates the nation’s largest and most diverse network of animal care centers. An affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States, The Fund for Animals provides hands-on care and safe haven for more than 3,000 animals representing 150 species each year, including those rescued from cruelty and neglect, victims of the exotic pet trade, injured and orphaned wildlife, refugees from research labs, and many more, and works to prevent cruelty through advocacy and education. For more information visit fundforanimals.org.  

The Fund for Animals’ animal care centers include:

  • Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas
  • Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in California
  • Cape Wildlife Center in Massachusetts
  • Duchess Sanctuary in Oregon

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization, rated the most effective by its peers. Since 1954, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. We rescue and care for tens of thousands of animals each year, but our primary mission is to prevent cruelty before it occurs. We're there for all animals, across America and around the world. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty -- on the Web at humanesociety.org.

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