(Updates with zebra escape in third paragraph, alleged tiger-feeding violations in eighth paragraph.)
Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus paid a $270,000 civil penalty for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
The fine paid by Feld Entertainment Inc. is the biggest ever assessed against an animal exhibitor, the USDA said today in an e-mailed statement. Vienna, Virginia-based Feld said in a statement that it didn’t admit any wrongdoing or violations.
Reports compiled by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service describe cuts on elephants’ faces from sharp edges in bolts in transport trailers. A 35-year-old Asian elephant named Banko allegedly was forced to perform in Los Angeles despite a diarrhea attack, and a zebra escaped a protective fence and ended up on a major roadway in Atlanta. The USDA can assess penalties as much as $10,000 per violation.
“This settlement sends a direct message to the public and to those who exhibit animals that USDA will take all necessary steps to protect animals regulated under the Animal Welfare Act,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the USDA e- mail.
‘Greatest Show on Earth’
As part of the settlement announced today, Ringling, which bills itself as “the Greatest Show on Earth,” also agreed to implement annual compliance training for all employees who work with animals, the USDA said. The alleged violations occurred from June 2007 to August 2011.
According to USDA records, inspections uncovered cases of inadequate bedding and threats to clean food that ranged from fiberglass hanging over haystacks to rat droppings in a cooler.
“The rodent droppings have the potential for contaminating the food stored there,” a USDA inspector said in a 2009 report. “There must be a safe and an effective program to control the pests.”
A 2008 report alleged that wheelbarrows used to remove tiger waste were also employed to haul meat to the animals. The same jagged bolts that cut the faces of elephants Asha and Rudy also threatened two other animals that used the trailer, Bonnie and Barack, another report said.
Last month, a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the Animal Protection Institute and a former Ringling elephant trainer claiming the company uses bullhooks on the animals and chained them for prolonged periods on train rides.
Closely held Feld Entertainment says on its website that it presents live entertainment to about 30 million people each year and has held productions in more than 70 countries. Disney On Ice and Feld Motor Sports are among its non-circus offerings.
“Our animal staff is dedicated to making sure all of our animals have an enriching and safe environment,” Janice Aria, Ringling’s director of animal care and training, said in Feld’s e-mailed statement. The company said it has a 200-acre research, reproduction and retirement facility in Florida for Asian elephants, and spends $6 million a year on animal care and conservation.
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