After dragging through the courts for nine years, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) lawsuit against Feld Entertainment, owner of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, alleging that training and exhibiting circus elephants constituted cruelty to animals and represented a violation of the Endangered Species Act was dismissed by a federal judge after a six week trial, when the judge concluded that the key witness and joint plaintiff, a former Ringling Brothers employee and elephant handler named Tom Rider, had been paid by animal rights groups for his participation.
The Telegraph reports:
[District] Judge Sullivan.. dismissed the plaintiffsâ€™ case after it emerged that Rider had been paid tens of thousands of dollars by the animal rights groups involved.
â€œThe court finds that Mr Rider is essentially a paid plaintiff… who is not credible, and therefore affords no weight to his testimony,â€ he wrote in his verdict.
â€œMr Riderâ€™s self-serving testimony at trial about his personal and emotional attachment to these elephants also is not credible because he did not begin to make complaints about how Feld Entertainment treated its elephants until after he began accepting money from animal activists.â€
Rider had compared his affection for the Ringling Bros elephants, which he called his â€œgirls,â€ to his love for his own family, and claimed that he had left both Ringling and another circus due to the distress he suffered while working there.
Evidence produced by the defence, however, demonstrated that Rider had never communicated dissatisfaction with the animals’ treatment to any employer. He was unable to recall the names of all his former charges and in one photograph was even shown using a bullhook.
Feld Entertainment’s (FEI) attorney in the trial, Michelle Pardo of Fulbright & Jaworski, said that â€œthe case uncovered a very curious and disturbing side about the agenda of some of these animal rights groups, and what they do with donorsâ€™ moneyâ€.