Animal rights advocates plan circus protest

By Sharon Wittke

Circus animals travel in cramped cages and get almost no time to relax, says a local animal rights advocate.

Amy Misner, a senior from Midlothian studying zoology, said she is organizing a demonstration outside the Ringling Brothers Circus at the SIU Arena this weekend to protest the unfair treatment of circus animals.

Misner said she is not affiliated with any animal rights groups but is just a concerned student who wants others to know that the elephants and tigers are being mistreated.


“These animals are being shuttled all around the country,” she said. “Why don’t we just stop using animals for entertainment?”

She said her goal is not to prevent

people from going inside the arena, but rather to change their minds about attending the circus in the future.

To rally support for her cause, Misner said she posted signs at Longbranch Coffeehouse, the Neighborhood Co-op and various buildings on campus.

She also started a Facebook page and is relying on word of mouth, she said.

Misner said she and other demonstrators plan to hold signs, pass out pamphlets and answer questions about the cause while they stand near the entrance of the arena.

Circus animals are forced to perform stunts that aren’t part of their natural behaviors, Misner said, and they don’t get time to walk around unfettered.


She said circus-goers are erroneously told the circus helps conservation efforts of the endangered species such as Asian elephants and tigers, by supporting endangered animal breeding programs.

Misner said she believes the circus only participates in the breeding programs to repopulate their own stock.

Ashley Smith, spokeswoman for Ringling Circus, said animal care is first and foremost to circus management.

She said the circus and animal rights activists have fundamentally different beliefs.

Activists don’t want to see any animals in cages at any time, while the circus believes having people interact with wild animals creates a bond, and people become more concerned about animal welfare, Smith said.

“We see the circus as an educational experience,” she said.

Smith said the trainers teach and reinforce only the animals’ natural behaviors.

She said elephants stand on the backs of other elephants in the wild because they’re playing, but when they behave that way at the circus with music in the background, people think it’s just a silly trick.

“We’re entertainment, but we believe that when people see the animals as playful creatures, they develop a bond,” Smith said.

She said the animals receive excellent medical care.  Ringling Brothers has a full staff of veterinarians, and she said the animals get plenty of exercise, eat the right foods and receive preventative healthcare.

Smith said despite the protests of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal rights groups, the circus has no plans to eliminate animal acts from the show.

“Animals have always been an integral part of Ringling Brothers throughout the years, and they are consistently one of the main reasons families keep coming back, year after year,” she said.

Bethany Ransom, a Murphysboro resident, said in an email that she protested last year and intends to demonstrate again.

She said she became involved because she is concerned about animal welfare as well as the safety of people attending the circus, because restrained animals might behave erratically and hurt someone.

Ransom said there are circuses that don’t use wild animals such as the Cirque de Soleil.

Leah Williams, a Carbondale resident, said she’d like to take her 4-year-old son Matt to the circus this weekend.

She said the protest wouldn’t keep her from entering the arena and said she didn’t think the protest would be effective.

“I understand the cause, but I don’t see the point. It won’t deter me,” Williams said.

Misner said she thinks sooner or later, animal rights advocates will have an effect on Ringling Brothers’ bottom line.

“I’m staying happy and positive,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll get the message walking in, and it may stick.”