Practical Issues > Animals for Entertainment > Circuses

Circus draws criticism from animal rights activists
06 June 2006

The circus came to town and not everyone in Asheville was happy about it.

About 30 protestors gathered outside the Asheville Civic Center last Wednesday evening to decry what they called cruelty and abuse towards animals in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. A similar protest took place Saturday afternoon.

One protestor carried a sign that read "The Cruelest Show on Earth," a clear attack on the national traveling circus, whose motto is "The Greatest Show on Earth."

"We're out here to let the public know that wild animals don't belong in circuses -- they belong with their families," said Leslie Armstrong, one of the organizers of the protest.

The demonstrators handed out leaflets and shouted their messages to people entering the Civic Center to see the show.

Animal-rights activists demonstrate outside of the Asheville Civic Center last Wednesday evening, where the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was performing. The protesters, who alleged that animals were being abused by the circus, held pictures of elephants chained up in pens and handed out leaflets. Staff Photo by JIM GENARO

Several parents expressed displeasure about the protest

However, their shouts were often drowned out by the call of a circus barker set ip outside the building, who was promoting programs and circus DVDs over a megaphone.

Though both the protesters and the circus audience members were generally nonconfrontational, a number of parents gave the protestors angry looks.

When asked about whether such protests upset children, Armstrong replied, "Actually, what they see in the cirus upsets them ... or should upset them."

Violent implements are used to compel animals to do tricks, she argued, including "bullhooks, whips and chains."

Armstrong also noted that an unnamed University of North Carolina professor has argued that "by taking your children to the circus, you teach them that it's okay to dominate another living being."
The Ringling Bros. circus denies allegations that animals are abused, noting on its web site that it "exceeds all federal animal welfare standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act."

However, activists expressed skepticism about such claims.

When asked whether Armstrong had made any direct contact with the circus, she said she had not, but added, "I've read a lot of their comments ... They're a for-profit organization and they put out their propaganda."

However, she said she has spoken to animal trainers directly. "They all told me that the only way you can get these animals to do these tricks is through domination and abuse."

Ringling Brothers has had two baby elephants die in the past two years, Armstrong said, resulting in investigations by the US Department of Agriculture, which regulates the treatment of performing animals.

In both cases, she added, the circus settled the charges out of court, paying large sums of money to avoid the negative publicity of a citation.

Carolina Animal Action, the group that sponsored the protest, has also rented space on two billboards in Asheville to get its message out.

The billboards depict an elephant chained to the ground.

 Asheville Police taking a Video

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