Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which regulates Ringling's treatment of animals, also reviewed the PETA footage and announced that the agency "has initiated a thorough investigation into these allegations."
The agency's July 28 statement also stated: "Our veterinarians and animal care inspectors are deeply committed to making sure that exhibited animals receive appropriate care and exhibitors comply with the [Animal Welfare] Act. Physical punishment, as alleged in this complaint, is inconsistent with the Act's standards, and is one of the items our inspectors will look into during their investigation."
Ringling officials did not return the Guardian's call for comment, but they previously claimed to treat all animals under their care lawfully and well, and they criticize PETA as a radical animal rights group.
Our story from last year also documented the aggressive tactics Ringling officials have used to silence and retaliate against its critics (at one time orchestrated by former top CIA official Clair George), the political and financial connections of Ringling owner Kenneth Feld, lax enforcement efforts by USDA officials, and the pervasiveness of tuberculosis strains in Ringling's elephants that are transmissible to humans. Earlier this year, "Dirty secrets under the big top" won first place for best business story in the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club's annual awards.
Although Ringling is a 139-year-old global institution, there is growing concern in the United States and other countries about animal abuse. The government of Bolivia this month banned the use of all animals in circuses following media reports of animal abuse.
As Silverman said, "The trend is toward better treatment for animals."