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Ringling Bros. popularity plummeting with animal cruelty protests

Ringling Bros. Circus, which has scheduled visits to Washington State in September, has experienced plummeting popularity in the wake of animal cruelty protests nationwide. Dallas Culture Map reported on Aug. 31 that the opening night of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas experienced low turnout for circus attendees, but dozens of protesters were present.

Ringling Bros. popularity plummeting with animal cruelty protests
Ringling Bros. popularity plummeting with animal cruelty protests
Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Ringling Bros. popularity plummeting with animal cruelty protests
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Signs were emblazoned with phrases such as "Ringling beats animals" and "Boycott the circus." Amid the recent SeaWorld controversy, animal advocates are focusing more on the plight of animals used for entertainment. Animal advocates assert that animal cruelty comes part and parcel with animal entertainment. In response, companies that profit from the sale and use of animals are enacting legislation that will protect them from this scrutiny.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which is a U.S. federal law (Pub.L. 109–374; 18 U.S.C. § 43), has been used to arrest protesters who have distributed leaflets, marked streets with chalk, and protested. The Act prohibits any person from engaging in certain conduct "for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise." The statute covers any act that "damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property" or "places a person in reasonable fear" of injury.

Animal advocates, however, continue to fight back. PETA alleges that elephants are beaten, hit, poked, prodded, and jabbed with sharp bull hooks, sometimes until they are bloody. In light of animal cruelty allegations, almost 40 cities and towns in the U.S. and over 30 countries have restricted or banned the use of animals in circuses. But many cities still welcome circuses featuring animals.

In May, Ringling's owner, Feld Entertainment, won a major legal victory, netting a $15.75 million settlement. This followed a 14-year battle with animal advocacy organizations over Ringling's treatment of its elephants. The settlement, however, meant that the court was unable to rule on allegations of animal cruelty.

In April, Los Angeles, California banned the use of bull hooks, the sharp-edged tools used by Ringling trainers. Two months later, Mexico completely banned the use of animals in circuses.

Mother Jones conducted a year-long investigation into the lives of circus elephants. One elephant, named Kenny, began bleeding from his rectum and struggled to stay on his feet. He still performed in three shows, even though he was too weak to perform any stunts.

After his performances, Kenny was chained in his stall and received rehydration fluids. Less than two hours later, a night attendant found his dead, bloodied body. His cause of death still remains unclear.

According to Mother Jones, Kenny's tragic life and death are not unusual - they claim that circus elephants' lives are miserable and that their illnesses and afflictions are ignored by circus workers. Animal advocacy organizations nationwide are organizing a weekend of action against AETA. The protest, which is planned from September 5-7, aims to educate the public about federal laws that specifically target animal advocates.

Wildlife Advocacy states that elephants perform between 48-50 weeks each year and have up to three performances every day. When they aren't performing, circus elephants are chained in box cars while they travel from town to town. Wildlife Advocacy states that the animals are chained all night long and chained for most of the day, as well.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus visits Everett, Washington from Sept. 18-21, 2014 and Kent, Washington from Sept. 25-28. Protesters are likely to be present.

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