The U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed formal charges against the Cole Bros. Circus relating to the physical safety and psychological wellbeing of its elephants and tigers.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently filed formal charges against the Cole Bros. Circus relating to the physical safety and psychological wellbeing of two elephants.

The circus performed in Dover Wednesday and Thursday this week.

In a recent press release by PETA, officials from the animal rights origination said they filed two complaints with USDA, pointing out that two elephants, Tina and Jewell, were forced to travel and perform despite being hundreds of pounds underweight and were sent to an unlicensed exhibitor with a long history of violating the Animal Welfare Act. The

Charges filed against Cole Bros. by the USDA include failure to provide adequate veterinary care to the elephants and failure to hire personnel capable of caring for them.

Richard A. Bell, a spokesperson for the USDA confirmed that charges were filed against the Florida-based circus

“USDA views all possible violations of the [Animal Welfare Act] as seriousness,” Bell said. “We can not speculate on the outcome or time table of the completion of this issue.”

According to court documents, also listed in the complaint were John W. Pugh, president and CEO of Cole Bros. and exhibitor Georgianna Davenport, also known as Gigi Davenport, of Gigi’s Exotics.

Court documents also stated that on July 8, 2010, Cole Bros. and Pugh willfully violated regulations by failing to handle tigers carefully as possible and employed a handler who lacked adequate training, knowledge and experience in handling tigers.

Renee Storey, vice president of administration for Cole Bros., denied the allegations and said the circus and its lawyers are disputing the complaint.

“We’re confident Cole Bros. will be cleared of all allegations,” she said. “We have very stringent animal welfare guidelines that exceed those of the USDA. We believe our animals are very well treated and that this is evident to the public who come watch them.”

PETA representatives said they recently sent the USDA video footage taken at the Cole Bros. Circus in Lanesboro, Mass., on June 17 that shows a handler who repeatedly struck an elephant using a bullhook (a rod with a solid steel-pointed end that resembles a fireplace poker), including forcefully hitting the animal twice in the face.

“We hope that the USDA's action against Cole Bros. puts circuses on notice that if they treat animals cruelly, justice will be sought," said PETA Director Delcianna Winders. “We ask the public not to take children to animal circuses because attendance supports suffering.”

Storey said she reviewed that video more than 25 times and could not find any evidence of improper action by the handler and that there was nothing alarming in the video, which PETA claimed.

After leaving Dover, Cole Bros. Circus will make its next stop  in Glen Burnie, Md., Friday, Sept. 2 and Saturday, Sept. 3.