Circus settles federal complaint over elephant incidents

AP News
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Posted: Jun 08, 2016 1:05 PM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A circus has agreed to pay a $16,000 fine to settle a federal complaint alleging animal-welfare violations involving Missouri and Pennsylvania shows where elephants were allowed to get loose or too close to circus-goers.

Hugo, Oklahoma-based Carson & Barnes Circus last month resolved the U.S. Department of Agriculture's April 2015 complaint, USDA records show. The circus, which did not immediately return Associated Press messages seeking comment Wednesday, admits no wrongdoing as part of the consent order.

The USDA had alleged that during a March 2014 fundraiser circus sponsored by Moolah Shriners in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, Royal Hanneford Circus encouraged crowd noise that included audience members stomping on metal bleachers, spooking three elephants being led from the arena to their enclosure.

Those animals briefly got loose on the arena's lot where vehicles of circus employees and Shriners were parked, according to published reports at the time. The USDA alleged in the complaint by its inspection service that one elephant that made its way between two trailers suffered scrapes and cuts while another had superficial lacerations.

Three weeks later in Altoona, Pennsylvania, the USDA said, elephant handlers wrongly stopped to water the animals in a publicly accessible area while leading them from the performance area to their enclosure. An adult photographed a child standing behind the water-drinking elephants, violating federal regulations mandating sufficient distance or barriers between the animals and the public.

The complaint came at a time of increased scrutiny of elephants in public displays such as circuses.

San Francisco supervisors last year approved a ban on performances of wild animals or featuring them in movies, joining dozens of other places that frown upon using bears, big cats, elephants and monkeys for human entertainment.

And last month, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' last 11 touring elephants went into retirement at the 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida, well ahead of the circus' previously stated goal of idling them by 2018. The circus will continue to use tigers, dogs and goats, along with a Mongolian troupe of camel stunt riders.

Activist groups including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have particularly decried the use of elephants in circuses or other public performances. Elephants are social in the wild and enjoy living in family-like environments. Traveling the country in railcars is inhumane and causes depression in the animals, activists said.

The USDA's complaint named the Florida-based Royal Hanneford Circus and Carson & Barnes, which leased the elephants to Royal Hanneford.

The status of Royal Hanneford's case was not immediately clear Wednesday. The USDA complaint did not mention the Moolah organization.

A message was left Wednesday with Colleen Carroll, the attorney who filed the complaint for the USDA's Office of General Counsel.