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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
US circus accused of spying
Mother and baby elephants
The circus says it treats its elephants humanely
An animal rights organisation is suing the parent company of one of the best-known circuses in the United States for alleged espionage.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said on its website that it had filed a lawsuit against Feld Entertainment, parent company of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.


It's clear that this is a pattern with Peta and that they have no love lost for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Catherine Ort-Mabry
spokeswoman for Feld Entertainment

It alleges that the circus' owners employed a retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative to tap Peta's phones, steal documents and infiltrate animal rights groups.

A spokeswoman for Feld Entertainment said the company would not comment until the lawsuit had been formally served but added that Peta had "no love lost" for the circus.

Correspondents say Peta is involved in a long-running confrontation with the circus, which it accuses of animal cruelty - a charge the circus strenuously denies.

Peta accuses Kenneth Feld, chairman of Feld Entertainment, and three other top officials in the Virginia-based company of seeking to quell protests against the circus.

The suit filed in Fairfax Circuit Court, Virginia, alleges that the company was acting, in particular, to "thwart criticism" after Peta's accusation that Ringling Brothers separates baby elephants from their mothers.

Peta is seeking damages amounting to $1.8m or more.

Long-running campaign

Ringling Brothers strongly defends its policy on elephants, saying on its website that calves remain with their natural mothers "until they are old enough to be properly weaned".

The circus' trainers and animals have relationships "based on trust, respect and affection", Ringling says, adding that calves are also given "numerous opportunities for social interaction with other elephants".

Catherine Ort-Mabry, a spokeswoman for Feld Entertainment, said that the lawsuit had not been served as of Saturday.

"It's clear that this is a pattern with Peta and that they have no love lost for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus," she said.

Peta has been campaigning against the circus for years, staging provocative demonstrations across America, wherever the circus plays.

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