Record Fine Assessed Against Ringling Bros.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey—the “Greatest Show on Earth” according to its slogan—has a new distinction that probably won’t appear in its promotional materials: The circus company has been slapped with the largest fine ever under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) against an exhibitor.

After years of claims made by AWI and others that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey mistreats its animals and fails to meet minimal requirements of the federal Animal Welfare Act, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken notice. On November 23, 2011, Ringling’s parent company—Feld Entertainment, Inc.—entered into a settlement agreement with the USDA to pay a civil fine of $270,000 for alleged violations of the AWA.

On several occasions from December 2007 through August 2011, the USDA conducted inspections of Feld Entertainment’s animals, facilities and records, and investigated alleged acts of noncompliance with the AWA. Inspection reports reveal evidence of several apparent violations of federal law, including the following incidents:

  1. circus handlers forced an elephant to perform when she was ill and required medication for pain,
  2. an adequate diagnosis and treatment plan had not been made for an elephant with chronic lameness—nor had assurances been made that the elephant received prescribed treatments, and
  3. enclosures for elephants and tigers were in such poor condition—with broken, protruding wires and rusty, deteriorated and jagged edges—that they posed a threat to the animals.

While Feld Entertainment remains true to form by denying that it has violated any federal animal welfare laws, it threw in the towel rather than fight the damning evidence, and has agreed to pay the hefty fine.

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