Center for Elephant Conservation
Coordinates: The Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) is a 200-acre (0.81 km2) breeding farm and retirement facility for elephants in Polk City, Florida, opened in 1995. The CEC is solely sponsored by Feld Entertainment, the holding company which operated the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from the 1960s until 2017.
Role and location
The CEC is the largest Asian elephant gene pool outside of the Indian subcontinent since traditional zoos usually have, on average, only a handful of elephants. Parent company Feld Entertainment publicizes the facility as a gathering place for researchers of elephant behavior and conservation. The center loans both elephants and semen to zoos and cooperative breeding programs around the world. Between the traveling circuses and the center, the herd consists of more than 70 elephants. When the center opened, it was home to 27 elephants, including four studs and six babies. As of 2010, there were a claimed 23 births at the center, most recently[when?] a female the staff has named April.
Although the facility is a largely undisturbed natural habitat in which some elephants are permitted to graze and stroll, many of the elephants at the facility are kept confined and chained in cement barns. Photos of the facility and staff training newborn elephants became public after the death of a former Conservation Center employee, Sam Haddock. Outsiders are divided on what the center means for elephants, calling it, alternately, “a stark, sterile-looking place, with … little evident enrichment,” “wonderful,” “the leading elephant-breeder in the Americas,” and “elephant puppy mill.”
In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from a number of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year legal battle over unproven allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated elephants.
The initial lawsuit was filed in 2000 by a former Ringling barn helper who was later found to have been paid at least $190,000 by the animal-rights groups that helped bring the lawsuit. The judge called him "essentially a paid plaintiff" who lacked credibility and standing to sue. The judge rejected the abuse claims following a 2009 trial.
An action over these issues was stated in a local court against the Center in June 2000. The action was brought by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Protection Institute, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals, and Tom Rider, a former employee of Ringling Bros. In late 2009, the suit was dismissed by the courts because it was ruled that the plaintiffs, ASPCA et al., as private citizens, were not allowed to bring suit against Feld Entertainment under the Endangered Species Act because 'uninjured' by the acts in question. Although citizens' right to file suit under the act is stipulated in the act, the court did not allow it. The court did not rule on the merits of the case, nor the video footage documenting severe hooking of elephants on Ringling show units. Various legal scholars have disputed the legal rigor of this ruling. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey publicists claim victory and have focused their defense on questioning the motives of whistle-blower Tom Rider and his relationship to animal welfare groups.
Ringling Brothers asserts retired circus elephants living at the center have an average lifespan of up to 70 years, although the oldest elephants to die at the facility Ringling lists as 55 and 62 years of age. A number of juvenile elephants have also died in Ringling possession, although not at the facility, but while on tour with a Ringling Brothers show. It is likely elephants at Ringling's Florida Center may live longer than captive elephants in zoos, who live an average of 42 years, although not as long as wild elephants who, if protected from poaching, can typically live up to 65 or 70 years.
- "'She had a larger-than-elephant attitude': El Paso Zoo's Juno dies after cancer fight". El Paso Times. Retrieved 2021-04-07.
- “Declaration of Samuel Dewitt Haddock, Jr.,” August 28, 2009, http://www.ringlingbeatsanimals.com/about-whistleblower.asp, accessed May 5, 2010.
- Shana Alexander, The Astonishing Elephant (New York: Random House, 2000), 175; Scigliano, Love, War, and Circuses: The Age Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans (London: Bloomsbury, 2004), 263-64.
- "Lawsuit Newsflash 24th August 2007". Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- "USDA Documents 1999" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- "Lawsuit Plaintiffs". Archived from the original on 2007-11-01. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- "ASPCA vs. Ringling $9.2Bros.," Michigan State University, College of Law, In Dec 2012 the court award of $9.3 million dollars to Ringling Bros from the ASPC was paid. Mr.Feld has other cases pending against the other defendants and intends to recoup the full court cost plus damages of $20 million from the other defendants for their slander. (http://www.animallaw.info/pleadings/pbusfdaspca_ringlingbros.htm, accessed, May 20, 2010.
- See, for instance, David N. Cassuto, ”Transcending Speciesism Since October 2008," Animal Blawg, http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2010/01/why-its-not-about-the-elephants/, accessed May 20, 2010.
- Feld Entertainment, Inc. Victorious in Case Brought by ASPCA and Other Animal Special Interest Groups Federal Court Finds Plaintiff Testimony of Tom Rider Not Truthful," Feld Entertainment Press Release, Dec. 30, 2009; http://www.elephantcenter.com/press/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=39470 Archived 2010-04-25 at the Wayback Machine, accessed May 20, 2010.
- "USDA Documents 2003" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- "USDA Documents 2004" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- "Goliath Business News". Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- http://www.elephantcenter.com/press/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=11860 Archived 2009-10-23 at the Wayback Machine; http://www.elephantcenter.com/press/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=5090[permanent dead link]
- "Ringling Will Stand Trial for Elephant Abuse," BornFreeUSA.org Press Release, 2007, http://www.bornfreeusa.org/press.php?more=1&p=1277, accessed May 20, 2010
- Ros Clubb, Marcus Rowcliffe, Phyllis Lee, Khyne U. Mar, Cynthia Moss, Georgia J. Mason, “Compromised Survivorship in Zoo Elephants", Science 322, no. 598 (December 12, 2008): 1649