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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 leg. 

Complaining witnesses, 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 society inspector.

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 wound."

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 pause.

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 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 prohibits elephant
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.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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