Published: Nov 14, 2011 11:13 PM EST
Updated: Nov 14, 2011 11:31 PM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- The Cole Brothers Circus is just around the corner, but this time controversy is the big attraction underneath the big top.

The USDA is filing a formal complaint against the circus, citing violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act.

The federal charges allege Cole Brothers didn't provide proper veterinary treatment or care for their elephants. The complaint says the woman contracted to care for them allegedly transported one elephant in an enclosure with camels, "without air conditioning and scant ventilation, when the recorded temperature was 94 degrees."

Other citations allege some of the elephants were underweight and suffering from a number of untreated conditions.

PETA alerted the USDA twice about the alleged violations, including instances where a trainer "repeatedly hit the elephant with an ankus during both rides and circus performance."

"The only way to get a multi-ton elephant to perform the ridiculously over-exaggerated tricks you see in the circus is by beating them with bull-hooks, which are long, fire-poker like devices with steel tips at the end from the time they're mere babies," Carney Anne Chester of PETA said Monday.

The circus maintains it's innocence and says the show will go on.

"Cole Bros. Circus has denied those allegations and we feel extremely confident that we will be exonerated," Cole Bros. Circus VP of Administration Renee Storey said Monday.

The USDA complaint also claims tiger trainers employed by the circus were not properly trained in handling the exotic animals.

The Cole Brothers Circus is scheduled for shows in Cape Coral and Bonita Springs starting November 21st.