Life's no circus for the Ringling Brothers these days.
The USDA announced Monday that an agreement was reached where Feld Entertainment, Inc., doing business as Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Feld), will pay a $270,000 fine for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
According to a USDA press release, Feld also agreed to "develop and implement annual AWA compliance training for all employees who work with and handle animals, including trainers, handlers, attendants and veterinarians starting March 31, 2012, and to establish an AWA compliance position on its staff by February 28, 2012."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement, "The civil penalty and other stipulations in the settlement agreement will promote a better understanding of the rights and responsibilities of all exhibitors in maintaining and caring for animals under their care."
According to the Associated Press, Feld Entertainment does not admit to violating the law. CEO Kenneth Feld said in a 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."
Actress Olivia Munn recently blogged for HuffPost about Sarah, a 54-year-old elephant with a chronic infection, forced to perform with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus despite recently collapsing. Munn wrote, "An elephant who reaches out her trunk to another in friendship or for comfort is punished with a whack of a bullhook -- a heavy baton with a sharp point and hook on the end -- the ubiquitous device used by Ringling to keep elephants fearful and compliant."
According to a PETA website, "In the Ringling Bros. circus, elephants are beaten, hit, poked, prodded, and jabbed with sharp hooks, sometimes until bloody. Tigers are viciously struck with sticks so that they'll perform difficult and confusing tricks."
The blame doesn't stop at the circus, though.
Mother Jones found in a year-long investigation that the USDA has conducted over a dozen investigations of Feld Entertainment, and yet regulators have not acted on their findings of abuse. A former head of the animal care unit in the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said that with a limited budget, the agency was unable to prosecute many cases.
PETA has been fighting Ringling Bros. for several years, complaining about the death of a baby elephant, the killing of a lion, and the beating of other elephants. The organization's fight against the circus has gained support from Munn as well as other celebrities including Pink, Sarah Silverman and Cloris Leachman.
PETA wrote in a press statement, "The government has taken a first step, and now it must confiscate the elephants. What remains to be done is for the public to be made aware of this history of abuse so that people will know to keep their children away from the circus."
Earlier this month, former game show host Bob Barker went to Capitol Hill to advocate for the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the use of exotic animals in traveling shows. Barker told HuffPost, "I'd like to see Ringling Brothers closed ... It's all animal exploitation. It's heartbreaking."
Elephant abuse isn't contained to circus environments. Earlier this year, reports and video footage allegedly showed that the elephant featured in "Water For Elephants" was abused while training for movies. The video claims to reveal elephants being beaten with bull hooks and receiving electric shocks.
Even as Feld is paying its fine, some wonder -- Are entertainment-seeking humans partially to blame for funding the abuse?