Ringling Brothers Get Fined $270k

The USDA on Monday announced a $270,000 fine against the company that owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus and an elephant breeding facility in Polk County over its treatment and housing of animals.

The United States Department of Agriculture reached an agreement with Feld Entertainment Inc. in which the company would be penalized for violating portions of the Animal Welfare Act between June 2007 and August 2011.

The citations included ones for animal mistreatment and facility problems. The USDA reported only facility problems at the Polk City site, not animal mistreatment.

“Obviously, we disagree with the USDA’s interpretation of a lot of these citations,” said Steve Payne, spokesman for Feld. “It’s an agreement that we put all this behind us and look to our future.”

Authorities said Feld waived the opportunity for a hearing and agreed to take steps to improve staff training and compliance oversight. The company said it would establish an Animal Welfare Act compliance position to its staff by the end of February.

Feld officials also agreed to start compliance training by March for all employees who work with the animals, including trainers, veterinarians and handlers.

The USDA is authorized to penalize law violators up to $10,000 per infraction occurring after June 2008.

The agency website listed several of citations against the entertainment. They occurred across the country, from traveling troupes to the Feld-owned Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County.

Citations included:

Sending one elephant into a Los Angeles performance while it was experiencing pain and distress.

Keeping elephants and their food in poorly maintained enclosures. This was the only citation tied to the Polk City facility. The USDA cited gaps in the perimeter fencing as well as ripped insulation panels in rooms where food was kept.

Harming a tiger during transport from one cage to another.

At least one activist organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has already denounced Feld in the case.

Payne said the circus is currently rehearsing for their 142nd edition of the Ringling Brothers show, scheduled to open in Tampa Jan. 4. The show will move to Orlando Jan. 12 through Jan. 16.