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Elephant owner faces 2 charges in sister's death

A circus owner did not properly restrain and watch the elephant that killed his sister, authorities say.

By RICHARD DANIELSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2000


TAMPA -- Circus owner Manuel Ramos was charged with two misdemeanors Friday for failing to restrain and supervise Kenya the elephant, which pulled free from her chain on Jan. 26 and killed Ramos' younger sister.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office filed the charges, both second-degree misdemeanors punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, in the death of 52-year-old Teresa Ramos-Caballero.

Kenya, a 21/2-ton female African elephant, pulled free from the chain holding her to a tree and wandered toward the cluster of mobile homes in Riverview housing the 30-odd members of the Ramos circus family.

Ramos-Caballero, a former acrobat, was walking by the elephant when she apparently startled the animal. Kenya knocked the woman down twice and then stepped on her. Nine days later, Kenya suddenly collapsed and died, prompting authorities to begin an investigation into the animal's death.

Ramos, 58, will not be taken into custody, but will receive a notice to appear in court on the charges, Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said.

Ramos did not return two messages left at his home Friday, but on Feb. 4 he said he often disagrees with animal welfare inspectors who criticize conditions at his 10-acre compound.

"Sometimes they are right, but not many times," he said.

One of the charges against Ramos, who holds the license for the elephant, alleges that Kenya was not properly secured to prevent her escape. Officials say a detachable link on the elephant's leg chain came open, and Kenya pulled hard enough to straighten the link and walk away.

The second charge is that Ramos didn't make sure that the elephant remained "under rigid supervision and control, so as to prevent injuries to members of the public." Officials say that means wildlife tethered outside must be watched at all times.

Ramos already faced another misdemeanor charge filed Jan. 14 for failing to take proper care of the lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards the family owns and uses in circus acts.

"Mr. Ramos knowingly maintained these large cats in cages far below the minimum required cage dimensions (and) sizes," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Lt. Steve DeLacure wrote on a citation. "Mr. Ramos has previously been warned and cited for this violation in the previous years and knew of the minimum standard (and) required cage sizes for these species."

Ramos is scheduled to appear in court April 3 to answer that charge. Because it is a repeat offense, he faces up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

In late 1998, fish and wildlife officials issued a similar citation against Ramos for keeping five big cats -- three adult jaguars and two adult black leopards -- in a chain-link cage measuring 20 feet long, 10 feet wide and 8 feet high. DeLacure noted that that was the minimum-sized cage for two cats. In that case, Ramos ended up paying $121 in court costs.

Ramos was also charged with not housing his cats and elephant properly in 1989, according to court records. He was sentenced to six months' probation, but violated that and ended up being sentenced to five days in jail.

Authorities said Friday they had not determined what killed Kenya. Hillsborough County sheriff's officials first said that poisoning was a possibility, but fish and wildlife officials said this week that they have not ruled out natural causes. The veterinarian who did the autopsy has sent tissue samples to the University of Florida and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., for analysis.

"We haven't heard anything in reference to the necropsy," fish and wildlife Lt. Dennis Parker said. "It's taking a little bit longer than they thought."

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