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Animal-Rights Advocates Cheer End Of Elephants In Circus


Katherine Meyer is a Washington lawyer who's brought many actions in pursuit of animal welfare. She's gone to court to protect elephants allegedly mistreated by the circus, also sea turtles from burning in the effort to contain the BP oil spill, antelopes from so-called canned hunting - hunting on preserves that raise the animals - lots of cases. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: We should say you were involved in that long and unsuccessful legal action against Feld Entertainment over the elephants.

MEYER: Correct, correct.

SIEGEL: We heard today's announcement by Ringling Bros. described as almost the Berlin Wall within animal welfare. How would you describe this decision today?

MEYER: It's a monumental decision for the elephants. We've been working on this issue for many years, and we're very happy to know that these elephants are going to be able to get off the road. They live a life of misery on the road traveling with the circus, so it's a very great day for the elephants I would say.

SIEGEL: We also heard that the circus elephants are probably headed for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Do you consider that a satisfactory guarantee of the elephants' welfare?

MEYER: Well, I'll say it's better than being on the road, but not much better. And we hope that over time Feld Entertainment will decide it's best for the elephants to place them in either zoos or sanctuaries. There are a couple of elephant sanctuaries in this country that have elephants now and have room to grow, and there are some wonderful zoos that are looking for companion elephants for their current elephants. So we're hoping that that's where many of these elephants will eventually end up.

SIEGEL: When you say a life on the road is terrible, what do you mean by that?

MEYER: Well, Ringling Bros. is the only circus that travels by rail car, and it travels pretty much 50 weeks out of the year city to city. And the elephants are basically stored on the train. They are chained each on two legs at a time and very tight quarters, and they live on that train for as long as 24 hours, sometimes as long as 60 to 70 hours. And then when they do get to a venue to perform, they stand on hard surfaces, often chained, and are hit with bull hooks to be made to perform in the circus. So it's a pretty grueling life on the road.

SIEGEL: You've mentioned that a better outcome for these elephants than the Barnum & Bailey Center in Florida would be zoos. Do you accept that there are good zoos that - while that may not be the ideal life for an elephant - it's a valid educational institution and a zoo can treat elephants well?

MEYER: Some zoos can do that. There are - it's very - it's all relative. There are some wonderful zoos. The Oakland Zoo does a wonderful job of taking care of its elephants and allowing them to engage in natural behaviors and doesn't hit them, doesn't chain them.

SIEGEL: What is the natural behavior of elephants that they might engage in in a good zoo?

MEYER: Oh, mainly interacting with other elephants, using their trunks. They use their trunks a lot to - as a whole different vehicle for sensing and they put their trunks in each other's ears and all over their bodies and play together. And they roll in the mud and they swim in the water, and that's what they do in the wild. They weren't allowed to do any of that in the circus.

SIEGEL: Considering how long the litigation went on against the circus - litigation that ultimately was not successful in court - what do you think has happened? Has there been some changed public attitude or something that has tipped in favor of the elephants in just the past year or two?

MEYER: I think it's been a process that's been going on for some time. And I think it's a real tribute to the power of public education, not only because of the litigation efforts on the legislative side where ordinances have been passed in several cities banning the use of the bull hook, protests, etcetera. I think through all of those efforts the public has become educated and it's become - and becoming more - politically incorrect to mistreat animals in circuses. And so I think it's really a matter of successful public education and the public saying they don't want to see this anymore.

SIEGEL: Katherine Meyer, of the Washington law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, thanks for talking with us.

MEYER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.