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Owner of elephant may face two charges

State wildlife officials plan to recommend charges be filed against the owner of a 2{-ton elephant that broke free of its chain last week and stomped to death a member of a longtime circus family.

Manual Ramos, the circus family patriarch, could face misdemeanor charges that he failed to watch the animal closely enough and failed to keep it in a fenced area. The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office will decide whether to file the charges.

Kenya, an 18-year-old female African elephant, was chained to a tree at the Ramos family compound in Riverview but managed to break the chain and wander off early on the afternoon of Jan. 26.

It was grazing near some trailers when Teresa Ramos-Caballero, 52, apparently startled the animal, which knocked her down twice and trampled her.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Lt. Dennis Parker said it appears Kenya will be allowed to continue performing.

"We had the animal go through its usual voice commands that he uses in his performance," Parker said. "The animal reacted just as it normally would. There were no behavioral changes that we could see at all."

Parker said investigators also spent several days watching Kenya and inspected the elephant for signs of injury or disease. They found nothing wrong.

Parker said Kenya would be banned from ever being used as a ride elephant as a result of last week's incident, but there is no prohibition on it performing in the circus or being used for breeding.

Investigators concluded that someone should have watched Kenya while it was chained to the tree.

"The law that we have says that all animals must be under rigid supervision and control," Parker said. "As far as I'm concerned, and the way the rule reads, that was a violation at the time."

Parker said state law also requires wild animals to be kept in a fenced enclosure to prevent passers-by from wandering into danger.

Charges would be filed against Manuel Ramos because he holds the state license for the elephant. Both violations are second-degree misdemeanors punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

A separate investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's animal and plant health inspection service remains open.

Manuel Ramos did not return a call Thursday, but Kenya's trainer, Lance Ramos, said it is still not clear what provoked Kenya to lash out.

"We've been tying her out there for years, you know what I'm saying, and she's never gotten loose before and it was on our property," he said.

"We always watch the elephant under strict supervision and we just went to load a propane tank that goes to the heater" to the elephant's shelter, he said. "We just weren't watching her for probably, I'd say for no more than 10 minutes. We were right there on the property."

Kenya was chained to a tree where she could reach up to strip leaves and bark from nearby trees. But, Parker said, a detachable link in her chain failed to stay shut, and that allowed the animal to walk away.

Kenya walked about 75 to 100 yards, ending up in a patch of foot-high Bermuda grass near the trailers where Ramos family members live. Teresa Ramos-Caballero saw Kenya as she passed by with another woman. It's not clear whether she startled the animal by trying to shoo it away.

Then again, Ramos said the elephant might have been playing.

"Sometimes I play with her, and she wheels around and trumpets and talks to me and you've got to know when to get out of her way," he said.

Ramos said he plans to take Kenya to South Carolina next week for a circus and is comfortable enough with her that he has let his children near the animal.

"I don't think the elephant has realized what it has done," he said. "It doesn't act mean toward us and it isn't acting any differently than it did before. The elephant has always been a super, super good animal."

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