When the Ringling Bros. Circus opens in Miami this Thursday, it will do so in the middle of some serious controversy. Animal advocates allege Ringling Bros. violated the Animal Welfare Act by keeping three elephants confined in a small boxcar for four days.
The complaint, sent by the advocacy organization PETA to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, charges that the elephants -- Rudy, Sara, and Nicole -- were kept in their boxcars without access to open air. PETA alleges the incident occurred while the elephants were Miami-bound. According to the animal-focused website The Dodo, PETA's allegations stem "from a recent report compiled by USDA inspectors who directed Ringling to alter its veterinary practices."
PETA's report also charges the circus with failing to provide the elephants with necessary medication. All three animals have histories of lameness and foot problems, both of which are medical conditions common to elephants in captivity.
"Failing to treat elephants for medical conditions is appalling, and doing so because these elephants were locked in boxcars for days at a time would be doubly cruel and illegal," PETA Foundation deputy general counsel Delcianna Winders said in a statement. "PETA is calling on the authorities to hold Ringling accountable for breaking federal law again -- and on families to stay far away from this despicable circus."
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Winders is referring to the commonly called Twenty-Eight Hour Law, which prohibits the confinement of animals for more than 28 hours at a time. The federal law, enforced by the USDA, requires that traveling animals be unloaded and allowed to "eat, water, and rest."
Ringling Bros. denies it mishandled the elephants. In a statement to The Dodo, Steve Payne, spokesman for Ringling's parent organization, Feld Entertainment Inc., said, "There were multiple stops on the trip... When in Orlando they were examined by veterinary staff and found to be healthy." Payne added that the USDA's findings were due to a record-keeping mistake, which the company plans to address.
In 2011, the circus settled with the USDA over previous violations to the tune of $270,000. It was the largest fine the federal department had ever levied against a circus.