December 31, 2001

Making a circus of justice

By: Paul Driessen

"Animal rights" extremists who argue that cows, pigs, rats and all other animals are entitled to the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as people have suffered a well-deserved courtroom defeat.

The latest stunt by these media-savvy activists to advance their movement was the trumped-up prosecution of a genuine animal lover who has dedicated his life to caring for elephants - trainer Mark Gebel of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Justice and common sense prevailed when a jury in San Jose, Calif., found Mr. Gebel innocent on Dec. 21 of violating a unique California law against elephant abuse. What was the heinous alleged crime? Mr. Gebel was accused of poking an 8,000-pound elephant and causing a pinprick-size cut. He didn't do it, and jurors believed him. The jury foreman said that the case should never have been brought to court.

To think that Mr. Gebel would abuse the elephants he loves makes as much sense as thinking Roy Rogers abused his beloved horse Trigger, or that classic TV shows like "Lassie" and "Flipper" taught children to hate and abuse animals.

Mr. Gebel, 31, grew up in the circus as the son of famed wild animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams. He devotes himself to feeding elephants, caring for them, and helping them learn enjoyable behaviors.

The more you learn about the bizarre case against Mr. Gebel, the more absurd it gets. It turns out that the two people who made the allegations of animal abuse - a police officer and a Humane Society officer - never even saw Mr. Gebel strike the elephant, because their view of him was blocked by the animal.

Instead, the two women alleging abuse merely saw the elephant bolt forward when Mr. Gebel was standing beside it. This led them to assume Gebel hit the elephant.

On top of that, the Humane Society officer admitted on cross-examination that she didn't write a report about the alleged abuse until five days later, and erroneously stated that Mr. Gebel was wearing a red costume rather than the gold outfit he actually wore. And the police officer admitted in court that she has been active in the "animal rights" movement and attended a conference and workshop titled "New Tactics Banning Circuses."

Mr. Gebel's attorney, James McManis, told jurors: "The facts are, Mark Gebel did not abuse this elephant, he did not discipline this animal, he did not punish this animal."

A Ringling Brothers veterinarian who examined the elephant found no evidence the elephant was injured and offered the Humane Society officer filing the complaint the opportunity to bring in another veterinarian of her choice to examine the animal. The Humane Society officer refused and demanded prosecution of Mr. Gebel.

To understand this prosecution, you have to understand that the "animal rights" fanatics pressing this frivolous case want to put circuses out of business - along with every other industry that deals with animals.

The illogical logic of these radicals was best expressed in 1983 by Ingrid Newkirk, founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A newspaper quoted Newkirk as saying: "Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but 6 billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughter houses." Tell that to someone who lost a relative in the Holocaust.

In the elephant case, "animal rights" extremists turned to the legal system to get their way. But in other cases, zealots haven't hesitated to break the law. They've burned down fast food restaurants, broken into health research facilities that use animals to find cures for cancer and other killer diseases, and attacked women wearing fur coats.

Even the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon didn't slow down the Animal Liberation Front and similar terrorist groups. Since September 11 they've burned down a primate research center in New Mexico, fire-bombed a federal corral for wild horses in California, turned 1,400 mink loose on an Iowa farm, and painted swastikas on a Ronald McDonald House that serves seriously ill children and their families. The most extreme "animal rights" crusaders even offer detailed arson instructions on a web site.

Ringling Brothers is considered by many to put on the greatest circus in the world. But the trial of Mark Gebel quickly became an even bigger circus, with laughable charges of animal cruelty.

What's at stake here in the short run is the right of children and their families to enjoy the rich and beautiful circus tradition we all grew up with - seeing well-cared for elephants, tigers, zebras, horses and other animals up close, and spending quality time together viewing wholesome entertainment.

What's at stake in the long run is whether a radical and self-righteous fringe group that wants to impose its own extreme code of conduct on all will prevail against the will of the vast majority. We wouldn't stand for this in Afghanistan. Why should we stand for it in America?

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

Copyright 2001 News World Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times.
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