Marty Clear

Ringling decision doesn't please some animal welfare groups

If anyone should be happy about the announcement Thursday the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will stop showcasing elephants, it would be people whose work involves watching out for animals

Or so one might think.

In fact, the decision saddened some animal-welfare people. Others say they're not quite sure they believe it.

"I think it's very sad," said Kay Rosaire, founder and owner of Sarasota's Big Cat Habitat, a nonprofit animal sanc

tuary. "They fought the good fight for a long time."

In Rosaire's view, the circus and its parent company, Palmetto-based Feld Entertainment, caved in to "animal rights extremists" who really aren't concerned with animals at all.

"They don't care about animals," Rosaire said. "It's all about the money."

What's more, she said, Feld gave those groups a victory in one battle in a long-term war.

"I think this is just the tip of the iceberg," she said. "It's just matter of separating people from animals. They're going to get rid of guide dogs and there will be no horseback riding and no pets."

One group Rosaire is talking about is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has been protesting animal treatment at Ringling Bros. for decades.

PETA officials said Thursday the decision is not the overwhelming game-changer Rosaire says it is.

"We're hoping they're sincere," said Brittany Peet, PETA deputy director of captive animal law enforcement, speaking from her office in Washington, D.C. "But if Ringling is sincere, the time to retire these animals is today."

Peet said PETA is skeptical about Ringling's announcement but declined to say why.

"There are reasons," she said. "I do not want to put them out in the world and suggest them. It's difficult to trust an organization that engages in this type of behavior. After 35 years of advocating against Ringling Bros., we're very wary of this shady company."

Feld officials did not respond Thursday to repeated calls and other messages requesting interviews. Feld media representatives said the officials were busy trying to deal with a huge number of interview requests after the announcement.

Peet and other PETA officials have claimed Ringling Bros. mistreats elephants and other animals. Peet even used the word "torture."

That's ridiculous, Rosaire said.

"Elephants are worth a huge amount of money," Rosaire said. "An Asian elephant is worth about a half a million dollars, I think. Nobody's going to abuse them."

Besides, she said, controversy about alleged animal abuse has put Ringling Bros. and other circus under a microscope.

And she noted Ringling got almost $25 million in settlements from animal rights groups that had sued Ringling for allegedly abusing its 43 Asian elephants. That suit was dismissed, Ringling sued the rights groups and won lucrative settlements.

"That tells you everything you need to know right there," Rosaire said.

The bigger issue, she said, is elephants and other circus animals are endangered and mistreated in the wild. Elephants are often victims of poachers, for example. They're better off, she said, in humane captivity where they can be fed and cared for by keepers. Elephants and tigers could become extinct if they're not allowed to be bred in captivity, she said.

Peet said PETA would not stop protesting until Ringling Bros. eliminated all animals from its circus.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow