- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A circus has agreed to pay a $7,000 fine to settle alleged federal animal-welfare violations involving Missouri and Pennsylvania shows where elephants were allowed to get loose or too close to circus-goers.

Sarasota, Florida-based Royal Hanneford Circus’ resolution of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2015 complaint came roughly six months after the Carson & Barnes circus agreed to a $16,000 fine for its alleged role.

Royal Hanneford, which did not return an Associated Press message seeking comment Thursday, had hired Hugo, Oklahoma-based Carson & Barnes to exhibit the elephants during the questioned shows.

Neither circus admits any wrongdoing as part of their consent orders.

The USDA had alleged that during a March 2014 fundraiser circus sponsored by Moolah Shriners in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, Royal Hanneford Circus encouraged crowd noise that included audience members stomping on metal bleachers, spooking three elephants being led from the arena to their enclosure.

Those animals briefly got loose on the arena’s lot where vehicles of circus employees and Shriners were parked, according to published reports at the time. The USDA alleged in the complaint by its inspection service that one elephant that made its way between two trailers suffered scrapes and cuts while another had superficial lacerations.

Three weeks later in Altoona, Pennsylvania, the USDA said, elephant handlers wrongly stopped to water the animals in a publicly accessible area while leading them from the performance area to their enclosure. An adult photographed a child standing behind the water-drinking elephants, violating federal regulations mandating sufficient distance or barriers between the animals and the public.

Last year’s complaint came at a time of increased scrutiny of elephants in public displays such as circuses. Activist groups including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have particularly decried the use of elephants in circuses or other public performances. Elephants are social in the wild and enjoy living in family-like environments, and traveling the country in railcars is inhumane and causes depression in the animals, activists said.

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