Legally Brief: Animals in Entertainment

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on August 11, 2015

Legally Brief

P.T. Barnum, circus magnate and author of The Art of Money Getting, once said, “Nobody ever lost a dollar underestimating the taste of the American public.” In that cynical spirit, Barnum bought Jumbo the elephant from the London Zoo in 1882 and had her shipped across the Atlantic so he could haul her across the country in chains as a spectacle for profit. Ironically, years earlier, as a Connecticut legislator, Barnum fought against slavery and in favor of the 13th Amendment that freed them from chains. Like America, Barnum was complicated—profit and freedom in conflict.


For three decades ALDF has fought in courtrooms and legislatures on behalf of animals used in entertainment, improving living conditions, documenting and punishing abusers, and ultimately lobbying for outright freedom. Our most recent work in this arena includes:

Lolita the Orca


On behalf of Lolita, a captive orca held in the smallest orca tank in North America at the Miami Seaquarium, in 2013 ALDF and others petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to protect Lolita under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In February 2015, the NMFS announced a rule granting Lolita the same status under the ESA as the rest of her family in the wild, opening the door to further potential action to advocate on her behalf. In July 2015, ALDF and a coalition of partners hit the Miami Seaquarium with a lawsuit contending that the facility’s imprisonment of Lolita—currently held without the company of any others of her kind in a cramped tank with no protection from the harsh sun—constitutes a violation of the ESA.

Tony the Tiger


ALDF is fighting a lengthy legal battle to allow Tony, a tiger held captive in a truck stop parking lot in Gross Tete, Louisiana, to be moved to a sanctuary. Tony’s owner, Michael Sandlin, has aggressively fought to keep Tony at his truck stop, but ALDF will continue to fight on Tony’s behalf.

Ricky the Bear


On behalf of Ricky, a female black bear held for 16 years in an undersized chain-link and concrete cage at a Pennsylvania roadside attraction, ALDF filed suit in December 2014. Citing a lack of enrichment, poor overall care and a potential threat to public safety, the suit sought to revoke the owner’s menagerie permit. In February 2015, the owner agreed to a settlement wherein Ricky would be released to live out her days in rolling grassland at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.

Ben the Bear


On behalf of Ben, a bear confined in a North Carolina roadside zoo, ALDF and PETA assisted local residents in suing for her release. Ben was suffering not only physiological injuries but psychological and emotional distress. . Citing unsanitary conditions, hazardous enclosures, failure to provide adequate veterinary care, and failure to supply sufficient quantities of food and potable water, the lawsuit resulted in a victory when a Cumberland County District Court injunction ordered Ben released to reside permanently at the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in California, where he can forage, swim, and build his den under the trees.

Lucky the Elephant


On behalf of Lucky, an Asian elephant captured from the wild in Thailand and kept at the San Antonio Zoo for over 50 years, in April 2015 ALDF sent a notice of intent to sue the Zoo for mistreatment, alleging that the Zoo is violating the Endangered Species Act by keeping Lucky in conditions that injure her physically and psychologically—she has been kept alone since the 2013 death of her companion, Boo. The letter was sent on behalf of San Antonio residents requesting that the Zoo retire Lucky to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where she can be with other Asian elephants in a habitat closer to natural conditions for elephants in the wild.

Cricket Hollow Zoo


On behalf of the endangered tigers, lemurs, and gray wolves held at the Cricket Hollow Zoo in Iowa, ALDF filed a lawsuit in 2014 for violations of the ESA—specifically for failing to provide proper care. Since filing the lawsuit, ALDF has obtained alarming records from investigations conducted by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), showing that the zoo is also violating the Animal Welfare Act. In June and early July, Cricket Hollow Zoo was forced to close temporarily as a result of the USDA’s suspension of its operating license—a fact that ALDF relayed to the United States District Court as it considers the ESA violations lawsuit.

ALDF will continue to lobby on behalf of humanity toward animals confined, neglected, or abused by the entertainment industry and anywhere else in the world. You can receive updates regarding our progress by subscribing to our Email Newsletters and Action Alerts at And if you’re not already a member of ALDF, please join us.

“The desire for wealth is nearly universal, and none can say it is not laudable, provided the possessor of it accepts its responsibilities, and uses it as a friend to humanity.” – P.T. Barnum, The Art of Money Getting

10 thoughts on “Legally Brief: Animals in Entertainment

  1. Lisa says:

    Love, respect, humanity…an end to this evil, ignorant, abhorrent, archaic abuse

  2. Linda Condon says:

    The man who is imprisoning Tony the Tiger was able to get congressman Jindal to write a law exclusively for him to keep Tony, even though it’s illegal to keep wild or exotic animals in Louisiana. In a twist…Jindal is a candidate for President in the 2016 race. For God’s sake, don’t vote for him! In fact, spread that information all over social media. Let’s tank his bid for the white house.He is a,scum bag!

  3. Ruth says:

    Amazing work! So grateful to you people. It is my dream to one day have the ways and means to open a small animal shelter for dogs/cats and farm animals. If I ever come into any $$$ it is going to my sanctuary, and to others already out there, and to organizations like this. You renew my faith in humankind.

  4. Deborah Clark says:

    Please sue Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia for holding Asha (30 yo elephant) prisoner where she lives alone and is being used for rides. She stands and rocks herself while on a chain. It is mental torture for her.

  5. Cruelty of any kind towards animals has got to be stopped.It’s rotten Cruel and Barbaric

  6. KansasGuest says:

    I think the legal work you are doing on behalf of the humane treatment of animals is amazing. I hope all of them have positive outcomes for all the animals. And, if one case can set a precedent for future animals that has a domino effect, let’s hope it gets the majority of animals located in unaccredited, noncompliant, abusive, & isolated situations into sanctuaries where they can live much better lives and also benefit public safety and welfare.

    I’d also like the ALDF to think about the bigger picture with regard to the USDA & its lack of oversight of the ESA. This department clearly doesn’t have the resources to enforce this federal law. They are set up to oversee the nation’s food supply. The animals covered by the ESA are not food. I think there should be a movement to try and move oversight of the ESA to the FBI or the Dept. of Justice. It’s a federal law, violations often occur across multiple states, and their agents are better trained IMO to research criminal & abuse violations than the USDA. The USDA has a tendency to continue to license facilities and people with an egregious number of violations of the AWA & ESA. They’ve proven they have no interest or ability to uphold the actual law. So, is it possible to move enforcement & oversight to a department than can & will do this? Just a thought….

  7. Brenda Bogtstra says:

    This is an abhorrent practice and it is time to stop using animals in this way. I never took my children to a circus or a zoo for this reason and they are now adults. Why anyone would want to see beautiful animals caged up or performing is beyond me and totally against their natural instinct. Why does man think it’s okay to exploit animals in this way? For money, of course…

  8. Jane Buckley says:

    Performing animals is abhorrent and cruel. Should hVe been banned decades ago.

  9. Dee DeSantis says:

    The important work and representation on behalf of all animals by ALDF is truly appreciated; animals used in entertainment suffer tremendously both physically and mentally. Thank you for including Tony The Tiger in your post and for ALDF’s continued efforts to secure his release to a reputable sanctuary.

  10. Jmo says:

    Such animal heroes :) good job all!

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