Throughout the entire period when animal rights group Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other like-minded organizations fought Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus over alleged mistreatment of elephants, plenty of bad press was given to the circus.

Ultimately, the costs of related litigation and the bad publicity given to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, were major factors that led the circus’ parent company, Feld Entertainment, to decide to cease operations of the circus.

Again, that move was made widely known.

Yet recently, when HSUS and its cohorts agreed to pay a $15.75 million settlement to Feld Entertainment, it went widely unnoticed. This week, more than a month after the fact, I stumbled upon a press release from Feld Entertainment that told its version of what transpired. Had it not been for a tweet from Protect the Harvest, I may have missed it, too.

According to the release, Feld Entertainment discovered the animal rights groups and their lawyers had paid over $190,000 to a former circus employee, Tom Rider, to be a "paid plaintiff," in a suit against Feld. The court also found that the animal rights groups and their attorneys "sought to conceal the nature, extent and purpose of the payments" during the litigation. 

The press release also stated, “Their abuse of the judicial system included the issuance of a false statement under oath by Rider, assisted by his counsel, who the court found was ‘the same attorney who was paying him’ to participate in the litigation. The court found in addition to Rider being a "paid plaintiff," that the lawsuit was "frivolous and vexatious."

Paying a witness in such a manner would be a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which prompted Feld to file its own suit against HSUS and others, and this settlement is a result of that suit. Another animal rights group, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), was listed in the original RICO suit, but it earlier reached a $9.3 million settlement.

Feld Entertainment continues to operate as the parent company of traveling entertainment events like Sesame Street Live, Disney on Ice, Monster Jam and Marvel Universe Live. It also continues to operate the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation, a 200-acre facility in Florida dedicated to the reproduction, research and retirement of Asian elephants. 

Other questionable activity by animal rights groups

The timing of this settlement presents an opportunity for the animal agriculture sector to let the public know that what they see or hear from animal rights group should be met with skepticism.

This comes essentially at the same time a video of animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms surfaced and went viral. But it turns out what was seen may not be an accurate reflection of operations at Fair Oaks.

Newton County, Indiana, prosecutor Jeff Drinski said a witness to the alleged abuse of dairy cattle at Fair Oaks Farms came forward, claiming that an Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) employee who made the undercover videos of abuse encouraged or pressured workers to do what they did.

So, the animal rights community seems to already have two strikes against it in a short order of time.

We can assume a third strike will come soon, and the agriculture industry needs to make all of their adversaries’ strikes be widely known.

The future of the circus

It seems if more people learn that HSUS allegedly recruited and paid someone to testify, they will rid themselves of the notion that the elephants and circus animals are treated poorly, not to mention that its claims against animal agriculture aren't always accurate.

Not long after I blogged about the Ringling Bros. circus’ demise a few years ago, the Shrine Circus came to the nearby city. My family decided we should go, because it might be the last chance we get to see a circus. We all enjoyed it. While there, I paid careful attention to the animal acts, and I was pleased to see how well the animals were treated.

Just recently I went with my sister, my youngest son and one of his friends to a Cirque Italia performance – essentially a circus performance without animal acts. Enough time had passed and my son’s interests have advanced since our last circus adventure, so I wasn’t sure if the boys would like it.

But the boys talked about their favorite parts of the show during most of the ride home, and once we got home, my son then told my wife, who only missed it because she wasn’t feeling well at the time, about the cool things she missed.

This gave me hope that the circus is still an appealing entertainment option. If my basketball-playing, discus-throwing, tractor-driving, trap-set-pounding son still loves the circus, then yes, it is still a show for all ages. And it can only be enhanced by animal performances.

It might sound like a long shot, but wouldn’t it be cool if public perceptions changed as a result of people learning of this settlement, and Feld Entertainment used this $15.75 million as seed money to resurrect its circus?

But at the least, if word spreads of this settlement, it might help keep HSUS from doing further harm to industries we value.