If you happened to drive by Coliseum Court at any point between Thursday and Sunday, you might have spotted people in elephant and chimpanzee costumes waving to the cars driving by the entrance to the Ringling Bros. circus. However, these comical figures were not out to encourage people to buy tickets; they were there to encourage people to leave.
Members of PETA and various other animal rights groups, from Macon and from Atlanta, stood out in the cold for hours over the weekend to protest the Ringling Bros. use of animals in their circuses. Using animal costumes, posters bearing pictures of abused baby elephants, flyers and other animal rights literature, the small group of activists worked to dissuade people from supporting the circus’ alleged abuse of elephants and tigers.
“We’re in the 21st century,” said PETA senior campaigner Virginia Fort. “We shouldn’t be torturing animals to make a profit.”
The Ringling Bros. circus is advertised as being a family event, but Fort argued that families could really only enjoy the circus if they ignored or were not aware of what goes on “behind the scenes.” Fort thinks that ignorance of circus training tactics keeps families coming for the entertainment. Children, of course, love to watch the animals up close.
“Kids have a natural love of animals,” Fort said. “If they knew what was going on behind the scenes, they’d have to be dragged [to the circus] kicking and screaming.”
In 2009, PETA secured footage of elephant trainers at the circus striking elephants with bull hooks—heavy sticks with sharp metal hooks on the end—to keep them in line while preparing to enter the arena. The footage, supplied by an insider at the circus, showed several instances of trainers hitting the noses, ears, faces, and backsides—all sensitive areas for an elephant—with the sharp tips. The video can be viewed at PETA’s “Ringling Beats Animals” web page, along with a series of photographs documenting the restraining and training of a baby elephant using ropes and bull hooks.
Last weekend’s protesters passed out a DVD of the footage to cars coming into the circus or stalled in traffic coming out. They also passed out standard PETA literature, such as flyers and fact sheets, to adults who seemed interested or willing to at least consider PETA’s point.
However, a DVD of animals being abused is potentially disturbing to young children. Instead of catering their efforts to the adult demographic only, the PETA protesters passed out elephant stickers and coloring books. Anna Ware, a PETA volunteer who also heads up a group called “Ban the Bull Hook,” said that the coloring books were a huge success and that often cars would stop and ask for several more books to pass out.
“We do have a lot of people who actually turn around,” Fort said.
While many people consider performing animals to be the most entertaining part of a circus, Fort argued that plenty of performing groups have no problems drawing crowds without an animal attraction. The primary example of this, she pointed out, is Cirque du Soleil.
For more information regarding PETA’s allegations against the Ringling Bros. Circus and what you can do to help animals in confinement, visit PETA’s Web page and ringlingbeatsanimals.com.