The agency said the circus violated the Animal Welfare Act in the Jan. 25 death of Kenny, a 3-year-old Asian elephant.
The circus has 20 days to respond. A hearing may be set and the circus could be fined for its actions.
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Circus officials said the elephant died from a bacterial or viral gastrointestinal infection, and that he was treated with antibiotics.
Ringling spokesman Rodney Huey said Tuesday he wasn't aware of the department's charges, but that the circus "did everything humanly possibly to save Kenny. ... It was just one of those sad things."
It's the circus's second recent run-in with regulators. In March, it was warned over the shooting death of a Bengal tiger at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.
Trainer Graham Chipperfield fired five blasts from a shotgun into Arnie the tiger when the animal mauled and nearly killed Graham's brother, Richard, on Jan. 7.
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