Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was cited for "serious violations" of the federal Animal Welfare Act during this summer's engagements at the Honda Center in Anaheim and Staples Center in Los Angeles, an animal rights group charges.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report provided to the Weekly by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) does show concerns were raised about the care of 9-year-old female tiger Kimba and 35-year-old female Asian elephant Banko, who performed in Anaheim and LA respectively.
But a Ringling Bros. spokesman accused PETA, as the circus has in the past, of distorting the truth to further its animal rights goals.
On Aug. 5, which was two days before the circus ended its Anaheim run, Kimba received a laceration when a handler accidentally closed the gate of an transport cage on her tail. According to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service report dated Aug. 25 and prepared by staff veterinarian Pamela L. Smith:
In the medical record for Kimba on 8/6/11 the director of veterinary services states that the veterinary technician had called her and said that, "Kimba had caught her tail in a transfer cage last night and had about a one-inch cut near the tip of her tail." A record created by the consulting veterinarian on 8/8/11 described the wound as follows: "the cut is about 1 1/2 inches long and 1/2 wide and is approximately 1-2 inches from the distal tail tip."
The inspection report goes on to state that the veterinarian technician understood a handler closed the gate on the tiger's tail, but she was unsure of the details.
It was unclear whether this was the result of a problem with the cage, a personnel training deficit, or simple human error. We asked to interview the employee involved, but access to that employee was denied by staff.
As you might expect, PETA's Senior Media Coordinator David Perle zeroed in on that last bit in his email about the inspection report to the Weekly, actually underlining for emphasis: "Ringling denied the USDA access to the employee involved."
But Steve Payne, spokesman for Virginia-based Feld Entertainment that owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, said the reason the handler was not made available for an interview was because the USDA inspector had already worked out Kimba's future care with circus management.
"That was after the fact," Payne said of the USDA request to speak with the handler. "[Management] already answered all their questions."
The inspection report recommendation when it came to the Kimba incident essentially boils down to being more careful in the future and reviewing past incidents to see if staff training and/or animal equipment should be modified. As the report succintly put it:
To be corrected from this time forward.
Medical records supplied to the USDA also showed that at Staples on July 20, 2011, Banko the elephant suffered from diarrhea and abdominal discomfort that required pain medication. The inspection report goes into detail about the symptoms and medications she endured for the next couple days before her appetite and demeanor returned to normal.
But federal inspectors were also told by a staff veterinary technician and a consulting veterinarian who was not on site when Banko first started suffering from her ailments that she "was required to participate in the 7/20/11 performance in Los Angeles . . ."
The vet tech told us that Banko seemed comfortable enough to perform, and that to seperate her from the elephant group would have been more distressing to her.
This did not appease the USDA inspector.
Animals should not be required to perform when they are experiencing pain and distress. Requiring animals to perform when they are experiencing pain or discomfort is not a condition consistent with their good health and well being. Appropriate planning and training measures should be put into effect in order to allow animals to be excused from performing in the event that they are experiencing any condition such as pain, discomfort, or illness that would make performing inconsistent with their good health and well being.
To be corrected from this time forward.
In the notes section that concludes the report, the inspector states that, "Sarah the Asian elephant was observed, and her medical records were examined, and USDA-APHIS-Animal Care will continue to review and monitor her situation."
The Weekly reported the Sarah situation, where the elephant fell while walking onto a boxcar in Anaheim, here:
Rashomon would also describe the reactions of PETA and Ringling Bros. to the new inspection report, which even the animal rights group would have to agree with Feld's spokesman are "diametrically opposed."
"These are just the latest examples of the neglect and abuse of animals that mark Ringling's abysmal history of animal care," Perle of PETA tells the Weekly. I would be happy to provide you with documents and video footage from our extensive file on this notorious circus."
"We are proud of our veterinary care; our team has experience and education as they've proven every day," countered Feld's Payne, who accused PETA of relying on the opinions of veterinarians who are not with the circus animals every day as opposed to the circus', who are and "decades of experience."
He added that at the center of this all are veterinarians who disagree on how to care for the performing animals. Under Ringling Bros. care, Kimba's tail "is being treated and healing nicely," he said, while Banko is being treated the way her personal veterinarians "always do."
"She was kept with her herd mates," Payne added. "The way PETA is characterizing this is all wrong."
"Sarah is under the constant treatment of a veterinarian," according to Payne. "He sees these animals all the time and is very hands on. All our veterinarian team is."
According to PETA, Sarah "suffers from a purulent discharge from the vulva that may be related to a chronic rectovaginal fistula, a condition that she has suffered from for years."
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Asked if he would characterize the USDA inspector findings as "routine," Payne would not characterize them that way.
"We are routinely inspected, by federal officials, state officials. Our inspections are constant," he said. "These really come down to veterinary opinion. PETA claims one thing based on their veterinarian with no experience hands on at all versus our veterinarians who travel constantly to maintain our records of animal care."
He believes the animal rights group is piling on to achieve an ultimate goal of stopping circus animals from performing.
"If I were to take the PETA philosophy to heart, I should go home and liberate my wiener dog," Payne said. "They are twisting facts to say they won. It's a disservice to the people who care for these animals. Caring for elephants is not an easy job. Neither is being one of our veterinarians."