Feld Entertainment is the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and they've caught the brunt of the ire of the USDA.
Feld Entertainment was in the cross-hairs of the USDA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) for violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) on at least as many as 27 occasions with the result being a fine of $270,000.
Feld also agreed to more rigorous training for its animal handlers to include protocols which will serve to lessen the danger to the performing animals.
Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsac had this to say in a press release at the USDA website:
"This settlement sends a direct message to the public and to those who exhibit animals that USDA will take all necessary steps to protect animals regulated under the Animal Welfare Act,"
Feld has also agreed to create a new job, one which will be both the task of assuring compliance with the AWA, and also conducting AWA training. The position will be filled no later than the end of February 2012.
A copy of the full settlement agreement is at this site. The settlement shows that the first annual AWA compliance training will be completed no later than March 31, 2012.
Feld had been the object of more than one complaint by interested parties and Feld's alleged abuses were the subject of a lawsuit. The complaints of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) were the subject of an article in Digital Journal, and the lawsuits were mentioned at CNN. The lawsuits had been jointly placed by American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Protection Institute.
That lawsuit as listed at the Animal Legal and Historical Center website shows the suit as originating from a former Feld employee, Tom Rider, The suit was dismissed in October by a federal appeals court with the reasoning that the plaintiffs were unable to show "legal' injury against the themselves.
The brunt of the dismissal stemmed from the apparent lack of credibility of Mr. Riders testimony in relation to his emotional harm at the instances of alleged cruelty being performed on the elephants he worked with.
Riders submission of photographic evidence showing him using a bullhook on elephants he worked with also raised issues of credibility for the court.
As quoted in the summary: The Court finds it unlikely that a person with that degree of attachment to individual animals would stand silent in the face of their alleged mistreatment."
The animals in question covered by the fines and requirements of AWA protocol training will seemingly no longer be allowed to be chained by the legs for long periods of time and the use of the bullhooks (also known as an elephant goad) will either be curtailed or drastically limited.