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Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circusanimal rights


Elephant Enslaver Mark Gebel Acquitted of Animal Abuse, Reasons Unclear

December 28, 2001

As you may know, Mark Gebel, a star of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was acquitted of criminal charges that he abused an Asian elephant by striking her with a three-foot-long hook, known as an "ankus," puncturing the creature on the left front leg.

I'd like to believe that the jury, which deliberated only two hours, acquitted Gebel because of two deficiencies in the prosecution's evidence: the complaining witnesses did not actually see Gebel make contact with the elephant, nor did they examine the elephant immediately, but waited until the show was over.

More likely, I fear, is that the jury probably didn't think it was such a big deal what Gebel did, in other words buying the defense argument that even if Gebel did strike the elephant, the wound was a "pinprick" on an 8,000 pound animal, the equivalent of a paper cut. 

Don't paper cuts hurt like hell?  Could you discipline your child, or a horse, by inflicting paper cut-type wounds on them?

You've heard the expression "death by a thousand paper cuts"?  Maybe that's what the jury deserves for their cruel verdict, if a cavalier disregard of the elephant's mistreatment was indeed the cause of their returning a finding of not guilty.

You might note that while in the headline to this commentary I was careful to say that Gebel was acquitted of the abuse charge, I nevertheless felt confident in calling him an elephant enslaver.  Let Gebel sue me, because truth is a complete defense against libel.  It should not be hard to prove that forcing an elephant to perform unnatural acts, and the rest of the time keeping the elephant chained to the ground or in cramped cages as the circus travels around the country, is enslaving the creature. [more on circuses]

As for the court loss here, recall that with the lawsuits against tobacco companies, it took many years of failure before the legal actions started to stick, and real change occurred.  The same will probably be the case in efforts to utilize the legal system to stop abuse of circus animals.  For example, in 1999 the same witnesses as in the Gebel case "said they found evidence of puncture wounds and cuts on seven Ringling elephants performing in San Jose, but prosecutors said there was no way to determine whom to charge."

Similarly, last April the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and others sued the Ringling Circus, charging that "carting the animals around the country in tight cages constituted cruelty."  The case was never decided on the merits because the federal judge dismissed the case on the grounds that the groups lacked standing to sue.

Cruelty which seems so obvious to those with an open, compassionate heart is apparently written off as just "the way the world is" by too many others.  Let's hope it doesn't take as many decades for these animal-cruelty-approving attitudes to change, as it did to get tobacco company executives to admit that smoking causes lung cancer!

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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