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August 23rd, 2006 Jacques Von Lunen | News Stories
 

Unlocking The Trunk

Here comes the circus. Here come the calls for Portland to ban chaining of elephants.

     
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Before Ringling Bros.' big top rolls into town next month, animal-rights advocates want Portland to join six other communities that have banned the chaining of elephants.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote Mayor Tom Potter asking for action before the circus begins its five-day run at the Rose Garden on Sept. 13. Included in PETA's Aug. 15 letter was a disturbing DVD with five minutes of guerrilla video circus footage taken earlier this year (watch it at circuses.com/ringling_mistreatment.asp), prominently featuring elephant trainer Troy Metzler and Jewel, a 55-year-old female pachyderm.

Jewel, a senior citizen by captive-elephant standards, is limping, her huge left front leg stiff as a tree trunk. PETA circus specialist RaeLeann Smith says the stiffness stems from osteoarthritis caused by a life of confinement.

Dr. Mel Richardson, a California vet who has treated zoo elephants for 36 years and is an occasional PETA consultant, told WW that elephants aren't built to stand still for long periods and that restricting them with chains or tight pens leads to painful arthritis.

Oregon Zoo elephant expert Mike Keele says the prevalence of arthritis in captive elephants hasn't been studied. But Keele does say elephants at the zoo are chained only for very short periods to acclimate them in case they ever need tethering for medical treatment. The reasons they're chained only if needed: concerns about arthritis and the animals' need for social interaction, Keele says.

The PETA video also shows Metzler, whom his adversaries named "Captain Hook" for his use of a so-called "bull hook," driving the sharpened steel rod into the soft underside of his charges' trunks. Dr. Richardson says the force in the video is excessive and "seems to have been done for no other reason than to inflict pain."

Tom Albert, vice president of government relations at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, says if bull hooks "are misused to injure animals, that's wrong." But he dismisses the charges against Metzler, about whom he says, "Elephants are his life."

As for PETA's letter to Portland's mayor, Potter spokesman John Doussard says there are issues more pressing to Portland than elephant chaining.

Six places in the U.S. have banned chaining elephants. And at least 16 other communities have banned circus and rodeo performances altogether. In one of those cities, Pasadena, Calif., city spokeswoman Linda Centell says the ban was demanded by ordinary residents in what she termed "a very well-educated, progressive community."

Well-educated? Progressive? Sounds like another place farther north.

 
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