EUFAULA, Okla. (AP) — A federal regulator said Friday than an Oklahoma-based circus did not violate the Animal Welfare Act in the roadside transfer of four elephants into another vehicle after the floor of the trailer hauling them began to give way.
U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman R. Andre Bell said in a statement that Carson & Barnes Circus followed procedure. The Animal Welfare Act protects against inhumane treatment and applies to commercially transported and exhibited animals.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said the trailer floor started dragging on the road Wednesday and sparked grass fires. The elephants disembarked near Eufaula, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Oklahoma City, and then were transferred to another trailer and moved to a nearby veterinarian's property. A third vehicle took them to Iowa.
Carson & Barnes spokeswoman reiterated the company's previous statement Friday, saying the pachyderms were checked by a veterinarian and appeared to be healthy.
Photos of the elephants moving from one trailer to another were shared widely on social media and prompted outcries from animal rights activists.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals continued its ongoing criticism of Hugo, Oklahoma-based Carson & Barnes. The advocacy group encouraged people to avoid circuses.
The complaints come amid increased scrutiny of elephants in circuses and other public displays. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, known as "The Greatest Show on Earth," went out of business in 2017 after retiring its elephants the year before.
It's not the first time Carson & Barnes has been investigated for animal welfare violations. In 2016, the circus agreed to pay a $16,000 fine to settle a federal complaint involving Missouri and Pennsylvania shows where elephants were allowed to get loose or too close to circus-goers. The circus admitted no wrongdoing as part of the consent order.
A female Carson & Barnes Circus elephant named Kelly got loose in June from Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, according to a Department of Agriculture inspection report. The elephant roamed freely through a residential neighborhood before being returned to her enclosure. The agency said Kelly could have been injured or hurt people.