Like Father, Like Son: Animal Abuse
Runs in This Gebel-Williams Circus Family
December 21, 2001
I previously wrote about the
legendary (or infamous, depending on your point of view) lion tamer Gunther
Gebel-Williams, who died last July. It seemed obscene to me that he
was known to most of the public as a man who loved animals, yet his job
depended on forcing animals to perform unnatural acts, and then for the 23+
hours a day the animals were not performing, being kept in tiny cages, or
chained to the ground. Besides the physical torture of such
confinement, such treatment also denies these animals the ability to perform
virtually any of the activities that millions of years of evolution has
hard-wired into them, including their needs to exercise, roam, forage, play,
socialize and mate. [more info]
Now Gebel-Williams' son, Mark
Gebel, a star of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, is
being criminally tried for
abusing an Asian elephant by striking it with a three-foot-long hook, known
as an "ankus," puncturing the creature on the left front
including a San Jose police sergeant, said Gebel yelled at the elephant and
then lunged at it with the hook, leaving a "nickel-sized red bloody
spot" on her skin. "I could see the pink fleshy part of her
skin where it had been gouged out" said another witness, a humane
At least Gebel's father was
reputed to avoid the use of force in commanding his animals.
The defense Gebel is raising
reveals more than he might wish.
He claims that the cut was a
"pinprick" on an 8,000-pound, 8-foot tall elephant.
So if an animal is huge, it's
okay to draw blood?
His lawyers argue that the
bloody spot "disappeared after being washed, leaving no trace of a
Even if true, blood was still
drawn. Only visible wounds are improper?
What a sadist! Even if
you're not a big animal rights supporter, such an attitude should give you
This instance of wounding of
an elephant is apparently not an isolated case, since humane society
inspectors had previously noticed cuts and scars behind the elephants'
ears. But the district attorney declined to press charges against the
circus because no one had seen the actual abuse take place. Luckily,
this time there were witnesses.
A side note: as might be
expected, the wacky-right Newsmax.com has its own outrageous take on the
case. Their headline
is "Zealots Harass Animal Trainer." I guess the zealots
include the district attorney who decided to pursue the case, and the judge
who refused to dismiss it.
According to the
ultra-conservative website, Gebel merely "poked" the elephant -- I
guess sort of like innocuously poking a person in the ribs. Only with
a sharp metal hook! And with blood being drawn!
And, Newsmax informs us,
Gebel is being prosecuted under an "oddball California law that
handlers from inflicting 'physical punishment resulting in damage, scarring
or breakage of skin.' " Oddball? I guess Newsmax feels it's
okay to beat and cut elephants that don't do as we say.
Of course, since Newsmax and
its conservative brethren always find a million and one excuses not to help
suffering humans, it's certainly no surprise that torturing an animal would
not register very high on their scale of injustice.