Legally Brief: Animals in Entertainment
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, Animal Legal Defense Fund 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 Animal Legal Defense Fund 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, Animal Legal Defense Fund and a coalition of partners hit the Miami Seaquarium with a lawsuit contending that the facility’s imprisonment of Lolita constitutes a violation of the ESA. Lolita was currently held without the company of any others of her kind in a cramped tank with no protection from the harsh sun.
Tony the Tiger
Animal Legal Defense Fund 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 Animal Legal Defense Fund 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, Animal Legal Defense Fund 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, Animal Legal Defense Fund and PETA assisted local residents in suing for his 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, Animal Legal Defense Fund sent a notice of intent in April 2015 to sue the San Antonio Zoo for mistreatment. Animal Legal Defense Fund alleged that the San Anontio Zoo is violating the ESA by keeping Lucky in conditions that injure her physically and psychologically. Lucky 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 San Antonio Zoo retire Lucky to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. There 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, Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in 2014 for violations of the ESA. The lawsuit was specifically for failing to provide proper care. Since filing the lawsuit, Animal Legal Defense Fund has obtained alarming records from investigations conducted by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), showing that the Cricket Hollow 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 Animal Legal Defense Fund relayed to the United States District Court as it considers the ESA violations lawsuit.
Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue to lobby on behalf of humanity toward animals confined, neglected, or abused by the entertainment industry and anywhere else in the world.
“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
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cancelled notorious wildlife exhibitor and trafficker Robert Sawmiller’s license to engage in exhibition, breeding and selling activities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) following the Animal Legal Defense Fund's lawsuit against the agency for initially renewing the license.August 5, 2021 Press Release
The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled in favor of plaintiffs represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in a lawsuit against Cricket Hollow Zoo for violating state animal cruelty laws following an appeal of the court’s 2019 decision.August 5, 2021 Press Release
In a letter to the USDA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and others explain the zoo has repeatedly violated standards of the Animal Welfare ActJune 2, 2021 Press Release