By: Robert Johnson
Animal rights protesters greeted the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Columbia last week. They were holding signs claiming the circus abused its animals.
The circus has announced it's changing its animal training methods. It's corporate owner, Feld Entertainment, agreed to a $270,000 settlement with the US Department of Agriculture.
The new training program will be in place by March 31st.
The circus was accused of using abusive practices that violated the Animal Welfare Act from June 2007 to August 2011.
"This settlement sends a direct message to the public and to those who exhibit animals that the USDA will take all neccessary steps to protect animals regulated under the Animal Welfare Act," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Feld Entertainment settled with the USDA, but the agreement is not meant to be an admission of wrongdoing.
Ringling Bros. considers itself to be a leader in conservation regarding the endangered Asian elephant species.
Circus elephant trainer Ryan Henning has been working with their elephants for seven years. He says he is constantly trying to improve the training routine.
"On a daily basis we are doing whatever we can to higher our standards, to change things for the better for the animals," said Hennning
Animal rights protesters were outside the Colonial Life Center holding up signs claiming the circus abused its animals.
The protesters were unconvinced Ringling Bros. was doing everthing it could for its animals.
"They chain them down. They prod them with sharp metal instruments in order for them to do unnatural tricks that they wouldn't do in the wild such as standing on their head," alleged a protester who wrapped herself in chains.
Henning said the protesters do not understand the dynamics of training a four ton elephant, as opposed to a pet dog.