When the sight of the alleged abuse became too much, says Rider, he quit the circus in protest.
"They've got the greatest show on Earth," he explained. "That's what it is, a show, because the public doesn't know what's really going on."
Ringling Brothers officials stress that Rider is not trained in the care and handling of elephants and argue he is not qualified to judge how the circus treats the animals. In an "Elephant Care Fact Sheet," the company says it spends $6 million annually on animal care and more than $60,000 a year for each of its 54 elephants. In 1995, the circus created a "state-of-the-art" facility in Florida, "dedicated to the reproduction research and retirement of Asian elephants," according to the fact sheet.
When the trial starts Wednesday, Ringling Brothers lawyers say they will again argue to the judge that the case should be dismissed because the Endangered Species Act does not apply to captive elephants. If the judge rejects the argument, the trial will go forward in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. It is expected to last two weeks, and will be tried before a judge rather than a jury.
Rider and the animal rights groups hope a victory in the case will mean that the circus must stop chaining elephants and injuring them with bull hooks and other tools. But from the point of view of Ringling Brothers, a defeat would mean much more: an end to elephants at the circus.
"The only place the American public would see elephants in the future," said Pardo, "is in books or videos."