I grew up in a family of veterinarians, and have been surrounded by animals since I was born. I count myself as a serious lover of animals. Almost every vacation I took in my early adult life was geared toward seeing animals in their natural environment. Indeed, my top three vacations of all time were a visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1989, a place to which I hope to return; a visit to the Ngornogorno Crater four years later, and an opportunity to pet baby whales in the Sea of Cortez back in 1997. My first degree was in biology and, in one of those road-not-taken moments, in 1993, I had a choice between two summer internships: One was to work for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the other was to study cliff swallow behavior in western Nebraska.
Every internship I took cascaded into the next, and so had I chosen differently two decades ago, my life might have been far different now. That said, I seldom get any writing done at home without “Neocatservative” on my lap and I look forward perhaps even more than my toddler daughter to our frequent trips to the zoo. One of my earliest memories was a trip to the circus, an experience I hope to replicate for my daughter when she turns three and can sit still for a little longer.
Needless to say, I might write mostly about the Middle East and U.S. diplomacy, but I remain keenly interested in animal welfare and believe there is a special place in hell for people who abuse animals. There should also be a special place for people who lie about it or cast such aspersions in pursuit of a political agenda, especially if their lies actually threatened to do greater harm to animals by undercutting conservation or removing animals from a social environment they love.
Back in March, I blogged briefly about how animal-rights activists had the circus in their cross-hairs. While various groups alleged animal cruelty, especially with regard to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’s treatment of elephants, the accusations of malfeasance were transparently geared to the larger agenda of banning the use of animals in entertainment. The reality is that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus treats elephants quite well, elephants are social animals and for centuries have been working animals as well, and many become depressed when unable to work. And, of course, the circus provides a crucial service in educating the public about animals.
Today it was announced that the Humane Society of the United States and several co-defendants have had to pay more than $15 million to Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, after more than a decade of litigation which the Humane Society initiated charging that the circus was treating its elephants poorly. The U.S. District Court ruled that the Humane Society’s case was “frivolous,” “vexatious,” and “groundless and unreasonable from its inception.” The settlement also covered a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case that Feld Entertainment had filed after they discovered that the Humane Society and co-complainants had paid a witness and then tried to cover that up.
In effect, rather than utilize donations from well-meaning supporters who wanted nothing more than to help animals, the Humane Society, Wildlife Advocacy Project, Born Free USA, and other groups sought to channel that money into a radical political agenda. At least some of the settlement monies will help support the admirable work Feld does with its own Center for Elephant Conservation. Let us hope in the meantime that this case provides a wake-up call to those organizations that would use bait-and-switch tactics to utilize donor money to pursue agendas that have little to do with the intent of the donors.