And with it comes controversy, as animal rights groups such as the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for years have decried what they say is the inhumane treatment of animals by the circus, a charge that Ringling Brothers officials consistently deny.
But the USDA did announce in late November that Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Brothers, would pay a $270,000 fine for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), though Feld did not admit to violating any laws when it paid the fine.
Oscar-winning actress, TV veteran and animal rights activist Cloris Leachman referenced that fine in a letter sent last month to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in which she advocated that the mayor arrange for thorough inspections by an independent veterinarian of the animals performing in Tampa and prohibit any lame or crippled elephants from performing.
In her missive, Leachman urges Buckhorn and the city to "do everything in its power to protect the ailing elephants who are traveling with the circus."
She goes on to write that:
In addition to the fact that many of the elephants are suffering from lameness and a host of other maladies, the elephants scheduled to appear in Tampa are aging. Allowing these ailing animals to perform would violate state law, including Florida Statute section 877.16, which states, “Whoever shall exhibit for pay or compensation any crippled ... animal in any circus, show, or similar place, or any other place to which an admission fee is charged ... shall be guilty of a misdemeanor ....” Given Ringling’s abysmal record of neglect and the number of citations that it has accumulated for failing to provide veterinary care, it seems more than likely that the circus will run afoul of the law here.
Please don’t allow this Florida law to go unenforced. These endangered elephants will soon be in your jurisdiction. Will you please arrange for thorough inspections of the animals by an independent veterinarian upon Ringling’s arrival and prohibit any lame or crippled elephants from performing? My friends at PETA and I join animal advocates across the state in asking for your leadership so that Ringling will be held accountable.
In a statement released by Feld Entertainment last November after the company acknowledged paying the $270,000 fine and putting in place additional measures to ensure the safety of the animals in their care, Feld said it had a made a "business decision" to resolve its differences with the USDA. The statement added that "the company decided it was more important to focus on the future of its business by continuing to provide the best animal care possible instead of engaging in costly and protracted litigation."
Also in that statement Janice Aria, the director of animal stewardship and training with Ringling Brothers, said, "We stand behind the skill, compassion and quality of care provided by our animal care and veterinary staff that is in keeping with our work as advocates of animal welfare. We believe that it is our responsibility to ensure the proper treatment, well-being and safety of all our animals.”
Cl contacted Mayor Buckhorn's office for comment. If and when he gives a response to Leachman's letter, we will update this post.
The 85-year-old Leachman won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1971 for her work in The Last Picture Show, though she is better known for her role as Phyllis in the hit 1970s sit-com The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the spinoff, Phyllis, and is now appearing as a charmingly deranged grandma in Raising Hope on Fox.
Ringling Brothers will be performing 15 individual shows at the Forum this week, beginning Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m., and ending Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m.