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

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.

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.
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.
Courtesy of PETA

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:

Absurd.


"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.
PETA president Ingrid Newkirk and a pet.
IngridNewkirk.com

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.
 
November 28, 2011

Feld Entertainment, Inc. Resolves U.S. Department of Agriculture Regulatory Disputes

VIENNA, Va., Nov. 28, 2011 - Feld Entertainment, Inc. announced today an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that has resolved regulatory disputes associated with performing animals in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus.

Under the agreement, Feld Entertainment does not admit wrongdoing or any violation of USDA regulations. The company will pay a fine of $270,000 and put in place additional measures that will serve to enhance Ringling Bros®' overall best practices.

"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 Feld Entertainment. "Animal care is always a top priority at Ringling Bros., and we remain committed to complying with all requirements."

Feld Entertainment made a business decision to resolve its differences with the USDA. The company decided it was more important to focus on the future of its business by continuing to provide the best animal care possible instead of engaging in costly and protracted litigation.

"Our animal staff is dedicated to making sure all of our animals have an enriching and safe environment," said Janice Aria, Director of Animal Stewardship and Training, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. "We stand behind the skill, compassion and quality of care provided by our animal care and veterinary staff that is in keeping with our work as advocates of animal welfare. We believe that it is our responsibility to ensure the proper treatment, well-being and safety of all our animals."

Today's agreement is in keeping with federal regulations like the Animal Welfare Act, which sets standards of care for animals in circuses and authorizes USDA to enforce them. These well-established laws exist to ensure the health and well-being of animals and negate the need for new laws banning the use of animals in circuses.

Ringling Bros. spends $6 million annually on its animal care, conservation and research. Ringling Bros. and its animal care staff firmly believe that performing animals, when properly cared for, live a rich and full life. The company has a team of world-renowned, accredited veterinarians offering 24/7 coverage to make sure that animals are well cared for and healthy.

About Feld Entertainment
Feld Entertainment, Inc. is the worldwide leader in producing and presenting live family entertainment that lifts the human spirit and creates indelible memories, with 30 million people in attendance at its shows each year. Feld Entertainment's productions have appeared in more than 70 countries and on six continents to date and include Disney On Ice, Disney Live!, Feld Motor Sports, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®. More information can be found at www.feldentertainment.com.

Ringling Bros. is a world leader in the care and conservation of the endangered Asian elephant. In 1995, the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the reproduction, research and retirement of Asian elephants, was created on a 200 acre site in Florida. Information on the Center is available online at www.elephantcenter.com.
 

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.

Of course, PETA cannot rest until all the elephants are freed from their lives of servitude. 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. Please help: There is more that you can do to help animals abused in circuses today. I urge you to share the heartbreaking photos of baby elephants who are bound with ropes, shocked with electric prods, and jabbed with sharp-tipped bullhooks with your friends and family now. After they see Ringling's cruelty, please ask them to join you in pledging never to go to a circus that uses animals.

With the help of compassionate people like you, we can put an end to the suffering of elephants, tigers, and other animals who are beaten and forced to perform.

Kind regards,

Ingrid E. Newkirk
President
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals


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