Ringling Bros. Circus Hit With Largest Fine Ever

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevharb/3378471694/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Kevin H.</a>/Flickr

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

Following a yearlong Mother Jones investigation of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s elephant abuse, the USDA fined Ringling Bros. $270,000 for alleged Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations from June 2007 to August 2011. It’s the largest civil penalty against an exhibitor in the AWA’s four-decade history. For each violation after June 2008, the USDA can fine up to $10,000. That means the USDA is most likely charging Ringling Bros. with more than 27 violations. 

In our November/December 2011 issue, Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Nelson uncovered the big top on the circus’s potential Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations: elephants whipped with bullhooks, trapped in train cars filled with their own feces, and chained in place for a good part of their lives. Now, that could change. As part of the USDA’s agreement with Feld Entertainment, Ringling Bros.’ corporate parent, the company will start yearly AWA compliance trainings beginning March 31, 2012 for all new employees who work with animals. That would be a stark contrast to their past cooperation with the USDA. In Nelson’s investigations, Ringling Bros. handlers were shown trying to postpone USDA investigations of their elephant training sites.

Feld Entertainment waived the opportunity for a hearing. In a press release, the company explained that “Feld Entertainment made a business decision to resolve its differences with the USDA.” The company claimed it was more important to focus on the future of their animal care “instead of engaging in costly and protracted litigation.” Feld still denies any wrongdoing or violation of USDA regulations, despite agreeing to pay the $270,000 USDA fine.

Here is the agreement, signed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving:

 
 

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate