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Circus Violations of the Animal Welfare Act

The following is a list of circuses warned or charged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with violating the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) since January 1995.


March 2004
The USDA obtained an admission of guilt from John F. Cuneo, Jr. and the Hawthorn Corporation of Grays Lake, Ill. Hawthorn Corporation admitted guilt on 19 charges of violating the Animal Welfare Act. The violations included failing to establish and maintain programs of veterinary care; failing to handle elephants in a manner that did not cause physical harm, unnecessary discomfort, behavioral stress and trauma and; failing to handle elephants so there was minimal risk of harm to the animals and the public. Hawthorn Corporation was assessed a civil penalty of $200,000 and must place all of its elephants with APHIS-approved facilities by August 15, 2004.


January 2002
Sterling and Reid Brothers Circus settled its case with the USDA by agreeing to a $10,000 civil penalty. Of the amount, $5,000 is suspended as long as there are no future violations of the AWA for 1 year.


June 2000
USDA charged Oscarian Brothers Circus with violating the AWA for failing to contain an elephant by failing to provide and maintain an enclosure of sufficient strength, which resulted in the elephant attacking and killing a woman. The circus also failed to have elephant handlers and trainers tested for tuberculosis. On 07/05/00 the circus agreed to pay a civil penalty of $20,500. The entire amount is suspended provided there are no future violations of the AWA. In addition, the circus’s license is revoked, and it will not be able to obtain a new one. As part of the agreement all the animals must be relocated to another facility.


August 1999
George Carden Circus International agreed to pay a civil penalty of $750 to avoid charges that it violated the AWA by improper and abusive handling of a tiger.


April 1999
USDA charged Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus with violating the AWA for abusively using an elephant hook on several animals. Four of the circus’s 6 elephants were observed with wounds caused by the use of an ankus, or elephant hook. On 02/03/00 the circus agreed to a civil penalty of $10,000, to be held in abeyance provided the circus spends this amount to retain a USDA-approved expert in elephant training and handling. The expert will visit the circus twice a year, and the circus will maintain for two years its programs for the improvement of elephant handling and care.


April 1998
USDA charged Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus with violations of the AWA for failing to handle a juvenile elephant as expeditiously as possible in a manner that did not cause stress and unnecessary discomfort. The elephant died after performing while ill. On 08/28/98, the circus agreed to donate $10,000 to an outside organization or institution to conduct research relating to gastrointestinal or infectious diseases in elephants and to donate $10,000 to an outside nonprofit sanctuary for elephants. Both institutions to be approved by APHIS. Feld agreed to enhance its training programs for animal handlers.


August 1997
USDA charged Hawthorn Corporation, which leases animals to circuses, with violating the AWA for exhibiting an elephant under conditions inconsistent with her good health and well-being; failure to maintain a written program of disease control and prevention, euthanasia, and adequate veterinary care under the supervision and assistance of a doctor of veterinary medicine; failure to make accessible records for inspection by APHIS personnel; and exhibiting 15 tigers while under a 21-day summary license suspension.


August 1997
USDA charged King Royal Circus with violations of the AWA for failing to provide adequate veterinary care, appropriate space, and failure to handle animals humanely, resulting in the death of an elephant.


June 1997
USDA charged Oscarian Brothers Circus with violations of the AWA for failing to maintain adequate veterinary care, to keep water receptacles clean and sanitary, and failing to construct structurally sound housing and maintain it in good repair to protect animals from injury.


February 1997
USDA charged Walker Brothers Circus with violations of the AWA. USDA Inspectors found that the circus operated without a license; failed to maintain complete records showing acquisition, disposition, and identification of animals; failed to maintain programs of disease control and prevention, euthanasia, and adequate veterinary care; failed to place animals under the direct control and supervision of a knowledgeable and experienced animal handler; and failed to transport animals in a structurally sound enclosure and maintain these enclosures in good repair so as to protect the animals from injury. The circus agreed to a civil penalty of $5,000 and to stop violating the act. Walker's license is also suspended for at least 30 days.


February 1997
USDA ordered Hawthorn Corporation to suspend activities for attempting to export a baby elephant being treated for tuberculosis.


October 1996
USDA charged Happytime Circus with 8 violations of the AWA including failure to give dogs adequate space and opportunity to exercise and to clean enclosures of excreta.


April 1996
King Royal Circus agreed to pay a $8,000 civil penalty and agreed to fix transport trailers and repair primary enclosures in order to stay a 30-day license suspension. In Spring 1995, APHIS investigated the reported misuse of an ankus on a 2-year-old elephant named Mickey. Spectators alleged that Mickey was beaten with the ankus and treated inhumanely. APHIS charged King Royal Circus with failing to: handle animals in a manner that prevents trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, and unnecessary discomfort to animals; abstain from physical abuse on animals; maintain records of the acquisition, disposition, description, and identification of animals, as required; have dangerous animals under direct control and supervised by a knowledgeable and experienced animal handler during public exhibition; maintain the transportation cargo containers in good repair; and maintain structurally sound animal housing facilities to protect the animals from injury.


March 1996
USDA charged Hawthorn Corporation with violating the AWA for failure to handle an elephant in a manner that would minimize risk of harm to the animal and the public. The animal killed her trainer and ran loose in the streets before being shot to death by police. On 05/20/96 the circus agreed to the issuance of a consent decision order and to pay a civil penalty of $12,500 to settle the case.

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