Press Release

Attorney, Plaintiffs in Circus Trial Argued that Elephants are Better Off Dead Than in Captivity

Washington, DC — This week in Washington, a federal judge is hearing a lawsuit filed against the Ringling Brothers circus by a group of animal rights organizations. The plaintiffs claim to be interested in protecting the welfare of circus elephants. But in a similar case in 2003, the same plaintiff’s attorney trying this week’s case—representing some of the same animal rights groups—argued that her clients would rather see African elephants killed than imported to the United States to be raised in captivity.

David Martosko, the Director of Research for the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom, is available to comment about how this revelation suggests the true motive behind animal-rights campaigns against circuses and zoos.

Martosko said today: “Americans have gotten used to the idea that bunny-hugger groups are more devoted to animals than to their own species. But it turns out some of them actually don’t care too much about four-legged creatures either. Apparently, we’re supposed to believe that entertaining families and making children happy is a fate worse than death for an elephant. I don’t buy it, and I don’t think any rational judge will be swayed either.”

In the 2003 case, nine animal rights groups sought to prevent the San Diego Zoo and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo from importing endangered elephants from the tiny, drought-stricken African nation of Swaziland. As the Swazis struggled to cope with the financial demands of maintaining eleven extra elephants in their sanctuaries, King Mswati III agreed to allow the zoos to take the elephants, as an alternative to shooting them.

Plaintiffs in the 2003 case included the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the Animal Protection Institute (API), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Both AWI and API are plaintiffs in this week’s anti-circus case. PETA is listed in court records as an “interested party” in the anti-circus case. The plaintiffs’ lead counsel this week is Kathy Meyer of the Washington firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal—the same as in 2003.

During a U.S. District Court hearing on August 6, 2003 before the Hon. John D. Bates, Meyer argued that “If the elephants are euthanized in Swaziland … that would be a better outcome than to have these elephants put in crates, put on airplanes, brought over here, trained with bull hooks, put in cages, and live the rest of their lives in captivity. That’s right, Your Honor.”

When Judge Bates asked if that was indeed the position of “at least some of your clients,” Meyer responded, “All of them. All of them.” When he later ruled in favor of the zoos, Bates noted that the animal rights groups “would rather see the elephants dead” than in captivity.

To arrange an interview with Mr. Martosko, or for more information, contact Sarah Kapenstein at 202-463-7112. For more information about the animal rights movement, visit

Note to editors: The current case is 1:03-cv-02006-EGS (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals et al v. Feld Entertainment, Inc.). The 2003 case was 1:03-cv-01497-JDB (Born Free USA et al v. Norton et al) Direct quotes from August 6, 2003 are from the trial transcript at page 104.


Founded in 1996, the Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices. For more information, visit


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