PR - Crisis and Management

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

PETA vs. Ringling Brothers

Years of legal maneuvering culminated last week in the kickoff of a sensational trial pitting the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against the man who heads the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

According to Ringling's latest ad campaign, All our newborns come with a lifetime guarantee. The Ringling ad goes on to claim that its captive-breeding program is helping endangered Asian elephants. However, PETA has evidence that the ads are false. Government documents show that Ringling's elephants suffer abuse and die prematurely, that the circus has been cited for more than 100 deficiencies in animal care, and that most of its elephants were captured in the wild. PETA is asking the Federal Trade Commission to pull the bogus ads.

A former Ringling employee has even come forward to describe her experience with animal cruelty. Professional dancer Jodey Eliseo toured with Ringling Bros. for two years. When she saw coverage of the trial of Ringling CEO Kenneth Feld, she wanted to share her horrific recollections of the abuse of elephants by Ringling handlers. Eliseo told PETA how she saw an elephant forced to perform with a huge infected boil that covered half her leg. She also noted that Ringling handlers beat an elephant for stumbling during a performance. Eliseo added that teenage elephant Sophie was covered with bullhook wounds from constant beatings and a baby elephant was severely beaten as punishment for running wild and smashing through a wall at a civic center (

PETA launchedched a major campaign painting Ringling Brothers as unethical. They have come out with statements which say, "Parents should not bring their children to a Ringling Bros. circus because kids pick up on things we don't think they see. They see the animals getting whipped. They see the ringmaster hitting them. It teaches a very dangerous lesson, that it's OK to abuse animals; OK to exploit them for entertainment" ( This type of negative publicity will surely cause a decline in attendance and a growthdistrustrsut for Ringling Brothers.

In response to these kinds of statements, Ringling Bros. spokesman Darin Johnson tells newspapers that PETA's web site attacking the circus is filled with misinformation. For example, Johnson says video footage there distorts the events surrounding the birth of an elephant at the circus. Johnson also says that the online video at PETA's site purports to showing elephants being whipped by Ringling Bros. employees, but that the video is in fact not of Ringling Bros. elephants or employees. Johnson is quoted as saying, "They took footage from every zoo and animal park in the world and spliced it together" (

This battle, which has just gone to court in Fairfax, Virginia is being named "Elephantgate".


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