THE American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has reached a legal settlement with Feld Entertainment Inc., which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, in which ASPCA has paid Feld $9.3 million to resolve extensive litigation over how the circus handles and treats elephants.
The settlement was announced in court papers filed Dec. 28.
Feld continues its proceedings against The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other parties, including former circus employee Tom Rider.
ASPCA brought a lawsuit against Feld in July 2000 charging that the circus -- the "Greatest Show on Earth" -- handled elephants inhumanely using chains and hooks, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
ASPCA was joined in its suit by co-plaintiffs the Animal Protection Institute, Animal Welfare Institute (d/b/a as Born Free USA) and Fund for Animals, which merged with HSUS in 2004.
The lawsuit, heard by Judge Emmet Sullivan in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., dragged on for several years and was based largely on testimony by Rider, who was a caretaker for the circus elephants in the late 1990s.
In December 2009, Sullivan found for Feld, ruling that Rider's testimony was conflicting and "not credible" and that Rider was "essentially a paid" witness who received more than $190,000 from the plaintiffs.
Feld subsequently brought charges against the plaintiffs and their attorneys under the Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, seeking damages for bribery, fraud and money laundering (Feedstuffs, March 1, 2010). Feld said it spent $20 million to defend itself, and damages can be tripled under the RICO Act.
Feld chair and chief executive officer Kenneth Feld, in a statement released with the court papers, said the animal activists "attacked our family, our company and our employees" for more than a decade "because of their opposition to animals in circuses."
He said the settlement with ASPCA represents "a vindication not only for the company but for the dedicated men and women who spend their lives caring for all of the animals in Ringling Bros."
ASPCA CEO and president Ed Sayres explained in a statement that his organization concluded, after more than a decade of litigation, that it was in ASPCA's best interests "to resolve this expensive, protracted litigation. We are glad to put this matter behind us."
A Feld spokesperson said he hopes the other animal activist groups will seek similar settlements.
Ringling and Barnum & Bailey merged in 1919, and Ringling was acquired by Feld in 1967. The circus entertains people in 70 countries around the world every year.
Feld is headquartered in Vienna, Va.