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Animal Rights Groups Calling For City Ordinance

Oct 17, 2006

They call themselves "The Greatest Show on Earth." Two animal welfare groups say Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is the cruelest show on Earth.

Monday, the Austin-based Action For Animals proposed a new city ordinance specifically targeting circus acts. Here's what they want: to ban any circus if it has violated the Federal Animal Welfare Act within the past five years, force circuses to provide specific sizes for an outdoor-holding area and climate controlled indoor areas for elephants and prohibit all circuses from using a device or technique that causes pain or injury to an elephant.

To back up their argument, Action for Animals, along with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA, released video tape Monday of an incident in Austin last July.

KXAN NBC Austin's Jim Swift has more on this story.

(The following is a transcript of Swift's story.)

In the video, the handler repeatedly calls out to the elephant by name. "Tonka, here" he appears to says. The animal cries out, but what is it saying?

Animal rights activists think they know.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesperson RaeLeann Smith says: "An elephant's ability to feel pain, as well as sorrow, joy and happiness, rivals our own."

The activists say they shot the video on July 2 as elephants from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were being returned to railroad boxcars.

They say when a handler used a guide known as a bullhook on Tonka, he opened a bloody wound on the rear side of her ear.

Action for Animals spokesperson Ernest Samudio says: "Action for Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling for the Travis County District Attorney's office to prosecute Alex Vargas, the animal handler video taped using a bullhook to injury Tonka."

Tom Albert, the vice-president of the company that owns the circus, called that, "ridiculous." He vowed to fight the proposed ordinance at city council.

Meanwhile, the Erwin Center, where the circus is staged every year, sent a representative to the news conference Monday morning. She was asked to leave.

Samudio says: "She wasn't invited, OK. And if she wants to discuss her issue, opposing point of view, she needs to have her own press conference."

Later, the Erwin Center representative asked for an opportunity to provide the facility's side of the story.

When we offered that opportunity, however, she said her superiors had changed their minds and that there would be no comment, after all. The activists, though, had one last thing to say.

Smith says: "If parents and children knew that this is what went into training elephants for the circus, you would have to drag them kicking and screaming to the circus, because children love animals. And they don't want to see elephants suffering like this."

So what's next? Well, apparently not much.

Police say their investigation is closed. They found no evidence of a crime.

The Travis County District Attorney's office says it has no record of receiving a letter from either organization.

As far as the proposed ordinance goes, city council members KXAN spoke to say they have no plans to pursue it in the near future.

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