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California Circus Protests

Central Valley Animal Rights Protests

July 18 2006

Five days of protests against animal abuse at the Ringling Brothers Circus in Fresno.

Animal Liberation activists from the central valley joined forces in five days of protests, covering nine shows Wednesday through Sunday, against Ringling Bros. (Feld Entertainment Inc.) Circus, calling it the "cruelest show on earth."

A coalition of Fresno activists, Fresno Voices for Animals, was joined by the Modesto-based Direct Action Anti-Authoritarian collective to call attention to Ringling's continuing use and abuse of wild animals in its "family based" extravaganza. Using literature and video that called attention to vicious and brutal elephant "training" techniques, holding up giant banners and signs, drumming, whistling and chanting--the activists were able to turn a number of patrons away from the circus.

Many more agreed that this would be their last animal circus. Activists noted that Ringling's so-called entertainment would not be possible without whips and muzzles, bull hooks and beatings, chains and cages, electric shocks, starvation, and, all too often, death. Since the summer of 2004, when a young lion named Clyde died on a railroad siding outside of Phoenix while en route to Fresno, Ringling has only used wild elephants and zebras in its Fresno shows. On the other hand, Ringling brought in several ordinary house cats trapped in tiny battery cages for its Fresno family fun. In any case, activists encouraged patrons to consider what it means to force animals, especially wild animals, to "perform."

Activists provided the following statement regarding Ringling: "Circus animals including elephants are complex creatures who form social structures, develop family bonds, and, when threatened, fight for their freedom and their lives. If you think that a bear riding a tricycle, an elephant standing on it�s head, or a tiger dancing on hind legs is natural or even acceptable, consider the violence used to capture and "train" these wild animals. In 2000, poachers killed 60 free-roaming endangered female Asian elephants so that their babies could be collected and sold to the entertainment industry. Of the 60 elephants worked under Ringling, 44 are from the wild. In order to break the spirits of these majestic animals, circuses use tools of torture. Bears often have their noses broken and their paws burned to force them into an upright position. Elephants are gouged by sharp bull hooks to scare them into compliance.

Tigers and lions are drugged and choked by chains or ropes to placate them. Chimpanzees are caged in solitary confinement and beaten with clubs. And a "unicorn" was even created by mutilating a baby goat--surgically moving his horns to the center of his forehead. Circus animals are caged or chained for roughly 98 percent of their lives. The remainder of the time they are either being "trained," paraded, or put on stage. George "Slim" Lewis, former elephant trainer and author of Loved Rogues, reflected on one memorable occasion of elephant "training". "One day...we began to punish [Sadie the elephant] for being so stupid. We stopped suddenly...unable to speak. Sadie was crying like a human being. She lay there on her side, the tears streaming down her face and sobs racking her huge body." Sylvia K. Sikes, author of "The Natural History of the African Elephant," says that it is unusual to see wild elephants cry but that it�s common among captive elephants.

One Ringling Bros. employee told the Elephant Alliance how the circus treated a bear: "She was a sweet little...brown bear...but sometimes she had trouble balancing on the high wire. She was then beaten with long metal rods until she was screaming and bloody. She became so neurotic that she would beat her head against her small cage. She finally died."

A reporter who traveled with Ringling Bros. said of one chimpanzee: "Repeatedly, he was struck with a study club. The thumps could be heard outside the arena building, and the screams further than that." According to former animal trainer Pat Derby, "After 25 years of observing and documenting circuses, I know there are no kind animal trainers." Despite their claims, Ringling clearly does not "love" animals. In fact, Ringling�s parent corporation, Feld Entertainment, has been known to take aggressive action against animal rights activists. In an attempt to discredit individuals critical of their animal abuse, Feld hired former CIA operative Clair E. George, once head of CIA covert operations worldwide, to engineer a dirty tricks campaign against activists. George disclosed his services for Feld in a federal civil suit, Smith v. Feld.

According to George, Feld paid for illegal spying, wiretapping, videotaping, harassment, and theft of private documents. George also oversaw efforts to undermine biographer Jan Pottker who was writing a book on Ringling�s history of animal cruelty. In preparation for what appeared to be a coordinated arrest of animal liberation activists during last year's protest in Fresno, Feld and SMG, who has a contractual relationship with the city of Fresno to run Selland arena, hired Lowers and Associates International Risk Mitigation Partners. Lowers and Associates compiled substantial information on activists and provided a security strategy to SMG. SMG hired Fresno police department officers to serve as security for the circus. The officers proceeded to arrest activists on charges that were thrown out a year later.

Money, power, influence, covert operations--can this really be a part of 'The Greatest Show on Earth?' Consider the origin of today�s circuses. The use of wild animals including elephants in entertainment dates to ancient Roman times. The Romans trained elephants to do tricks similar to those displayed today and some even more bizarre like walking tight ropes and dining from couches. They also used elephants and other wild animals in gladiatorial bloodbaths. Thankfully, gladiatorial contests have gone the way of human slavery. But animal slavery continues.

And for now, only you can answer the question in your own heart: will you be a party to arrogance and oppression or to honesty and liberation? Do you actually love animals or do you contribute your entertainment dollars to their abuse? Nothing less than your conscience and character and a life sentence for animals are at stake." Protests against Ringling continue at Selland arena through Sunday. The activists next plan to take their case to the Fresno City council and ask the council members to join dozens of other cities across North America that have permanently banned circuses that force wild animals to to perform.

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