The lawsuit alleged that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus systematically abuses and exploits elephants.

Story highlights

Circus owner violated the Animal Welfare Act, regulators say

Feld Entertainment agrees to pay $270,000 but admits no wrongdoing

The company agrees to a new training protocol for animal handlers

CNN  — 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has slapped the parent company of the “Greatest Show on Earth” with a record penalty for alleged animal welfare violations.

Feld Entertainment Inc., which produces the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has agreed to pay $270,000 for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act on several occasions from June 2007 to August 2011, according to a USDA news release.

The USDA can levy fines of up to $10,000 per violation of the act.

“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,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release.

Feld Entertainment officials settled in lieu of a hearing and agreed to implement new training protocols for any circus employees who handle animals, the statement said.

“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,” Kenneth Feld, the company’s CEO, said in a separate statement.

As part of the settlement, the company admits no wrongdoing or violation of USDA policy.

The settlement comes in the wake of a federal appeals court dismissal of a lawsuit against Feld Entertainment filed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Protection Institute.

The lawsuit alleged that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is in violation of the Endangered Species Act and that the circus systematically abuses and exploits elephants by using metal bullhooks to guide and control the animals, as well as chaining their legs while they are not performing.

The lawsuit was dismissed in October on the grounds that the two animal protection organizations did not have the standing to bring the lawsuit against Feld Entertainment because they could not establish legal “injury” to themselves.