WASHINGTON — The operators of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus have agreed to pay a fine of $270,000 to settle a probe into violations of the Animal Welfare Act for animal abuse, U.S. officials said.
The settlement announced this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture "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," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
"The civil penalty and other stipulations in the settlement agreement will promote a better understanding of the rights and responsibilities of all exhibitors in maintaining and caring for animals under their care."
USDA said the penalty against circus operator Feld Entertainment covers the period from 2007 to 2011 and calls for training for all employees who work with animals, including trainers, handlers, attendants and veterinarians.
Feld Entertainment said the agreement does not admit wrongdoing or violations.
"We look forward to working with the USDA in a cooperative and transparent manner that meets our shared goal of ensuring that our animals are healthy and receive the highest quality care," said Kenneth Feld, chief executive officer of group, which operates in 70 countries.
USDA requires the operators to provide their animals with proper veterinary care, water, a balanced diet, clean and structurally sound housing that affords with enough space to move comfortably, and protection from extremes in temperature and weather.
The move comes with a proposed law in Congress that would ban using elephants under the big top, a tradition that animal rights activists say causes terrible suffering.
The bill, introduced this month in the House of Representatives by Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, aims directly at traveling circuses by seeking to outlaw exotic or wild animals from performances if they have been traveling within the previous 15 days.
That would mean an end to the days of elephants balancing on stools, tigers and lions jumping through fiery hoops, monkeys on wheels, or other popular staples of the ring.
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