Ringling Bros. Pays $270k Fine Over Animal Care--and Disagrees with PETA About It

Categories: Grrranimals
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Photo by Keith May/OC Weekly
We explored in August the Rashomon reactions of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to an adult elephant hitting the ground while being loaded into a boxcar in Anaheim, with PETA claiming a sick Sarah collapsed and the circus owner countering the mammal tripped and fell. Both differed again the next month to a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report based partly on last summer's engagements at Anaheim's Honda Center and Staples Center in LA. The circus called the report routine, while the animal rights group chided Ringling for "serious violations" of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Courtesy of PETA
Sarah the elephant hit the dirt in front of a boxcar in Anaheim following the Honda Center engagement in August. The next month, Ringling Bros. was cited by USDA inspectors who mentioned they were following up on the incident.

So, we shouldn't have expected anything less from PETA and Feld Entertainment than completely different takes on a $270,000 fine the circus operator is paying to settle USDA citations over animal care.

Here's how Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA's president, began an email to supporters yesterday:

I'm thrilled to tell you about a historic breakthrough. It has to do with elephants who are beaten with bullhooks by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Feld Entertainment, Inc., parent company of Ringling, will now pay a penalty of $270,000 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act dating from June 2007 to August 2011. It is the biggest penalty paid by a circus in the history of the United States.

Since June 2007, PETA has spent every year taking formal complaints about Ringling to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We have met with members of the agency's Office of the General Counsel and provided ample evidence of Ringling's abuse, including the death of a baby elephant, the beating of elephants, the killing of a lion, the circus's use of crippled elephants, and more

Here's how Steve Payne, spokesman for Virginia-based Feld Entertainment that owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, characterized Newkirk's letter:


"In regards to Ingrid's piece of fiction, PETA had nothing to do with this," Payne continued to me in an email that accompanied a formal statement you'll find at the end of this post. "Feld Entertainment settled this so we could move forward and look to the future. Once again, PETA has proven itself as a publicity hound for which they have no basis in fact. It's an insult to the men and women who dedicate their lives to caring for the animals with Ringling Bros. I doubt Ms. Newkirk or anyone else at PETA has a clue what it takes to actually care for an elephant or any other animal for that matter."

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk and a pet.
According to the statement he attached, Feld Entertainment is not admitting any wrongdoing or violations of USDA regulations, but the circus is putting "in place additional measures that will serve to enhance Ringling Bros.' overall best practices." It characterizes the settlement as a "business decision."

"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," Kenneth Feld, the company's CEO, in the statement. "Animal care is always a top priority at Ringling Bros. and we remain committed to complying with all requirements."

As Feld often does when faced with allegations, fines and veterinary inspection reports regarding its performing animals, the company pointed to the $6 million it says it spends annually on animal care, conservation and research, and the "team of world-renowned, accredited veterinarians offering 24/7 coverage to make sure that animals are well cared for and healthy."

Despite paying the fine and maintaining that its animal performs live rich, full and healthy lives, Feld should not expect PETA to lighten up.

"PETA cannot rest until all the elephants are freed from their lives of servitude," Newkirk writes. "Elephants used in circuses are torn away from their families, chained, dragged from city to city in boxcars, and forced under threat of bullhook beatings to perform repetitive tricks."

Feld Entertainment's complete statement follows on the next page. That's followed on the page after that by Newkirk's full email.

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