WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has agreed to pay a record $270,000 fine to settle charges it violated federal animal welfare laws.
Feld Entertainment Inc., of Vienna, Virginia, did not admit wrongdoing or violating U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations in settling the dispute over handling of performing animals, it said in a Monday statement.
"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, chief executive of Feld Entertainment, said in the statement.
The USDA said the $270,000 fine was the biggest assessed under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
Feld also agreed to set up a compliance officer's position on its staff by the end of February 2012. Employees who work with animals also must undergo AWA compliance training, the USDA said in a statement.
In one episode logged by USDA inspectors, Banko, a 35-year-old female Asian elephant, was required to perform in July in Los Angeles despite pain from probable sand colic.
A circus veterinarian said Banko had seemed comfortable enough to perform and that to separate her from the group would have been more distressing to her, the report said.
USDA inspectors reported in 2008 that wheelbarrows used to carry meat to tigers were also used to transport waste. Inspections also turned up allegations of worn pens and feeding areas, poor medical record-keeping, improper fencing and failure to control elephants.
The allegations followed complaints from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals about abuse of elephants and tigers at the circus, including physical punishment.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Jerry Norton)