LOS ANGELES (CN) – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims in court that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should not have granted permits to export endangered elephants and tigers for circuses.
PETA and Animal Defenders International sued Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking a federal judge to set aside the permits under the Endangered Species Act and Administrative Procedure Act.
Feld Entertainment, parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, (none of whom are parties to the case) submitted applications for “export and re-import” of 17 endangered tigers and nine endangered Asian elephants this year, PETA says.
A statement on the PETA website says that most of the elephants have “serious health problems,” and that Ringling Bros. in 2011 “paid the largest fine in U.S. history for numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act.”
According to the federal complaint, four of the elephants – Aussan, Baby, Sarah and Toby – were considered exempt from the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition on import and export as “pre-Act” wildlife.
An endangered animal held in captivity on Dec. 28, 1973 is considered a pre-Act animal, according to the complaint, as long as it is not used for commercial activities. Asian elephants were listed endangered on June 14, 1976, PETA says.
“Because Ringling is using Aussan, Baby, Sarah, and Toby in the course of a commercial activity – its for-profit circus – and has been so using them for decades, these elephants do not qualify as pre-Act wildlife,” PETA says in its complaint. “Therefore, defendants were legally required to make all information submitted as part of Ringling’s applications for permits to export and re-import these elephants available to plaintiffs as part of the public record.”
Sarah has a human strain of tuberculosis and collapsed last year in Anaheim, after Ringling left her untreated, PETA said in its press statement.
“FWS [Fish and Wildlife Service] is apparently rubber-stamping blanket animal-export applications and violating the very laws that it’s charged with enforcing,” PETA Foundation director of captive animal law enforcement Delcianna Winders said in the statement. “FWS has essentially granted Ringling permission to go on routinely beating and whipping animals without even the token oversight that the circus receives here in the United States.”
The complaint states that Ringling Bros. was required to submit information to show it was contributing to the “propagation and survival” of the remaining 22 animals. But the circus skirted those regulations by submitting an “elaborate” 1,300-page document, which included numerous duplicate materials, according to the complaint.
To secure the permits, PETA says, the circus told regulators that it plans to teach audiences about the ecological significance of the elephants and efforts to conserve them. But PETA says the permits were issued without disclosure of supporting information.
PETA Foundation’s Matthew Strugar filed suit for the two groups.
The Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment, after business hours Wednesday.