Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus outside the Bradenton Area Convention Center on Friday.
STAFF PHOTO / KATY BERGEN
By Katy Bergen
July 12, 2013
PALMETTO - Donna Grace, 64, slipped the bottom of the elephant suit on first, holding on to a friend as she pulled silvery-gray fur over her knees. But she struggled with the detachable feet with the big padded toes before she plopped on a pachyderm-inspired mask with a blood-stained ACE bandage wrapped around its head.
“Can you zip me up?” Michelle Hughes, 20, asked nearby. She was already wearing a tiger costume and sipping water intently from a pink bottle before donning the thick, heavy head in the middle of a humid Florida afternoon.
As Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus owner Kenneth Feld spoke at the Florida Neighborhoods Conference in Palmetto on Friday, local members from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals staked out a spot on U.S. 41 to protest the alleged abuse of circus animals that they say are often beaten, tied up and forced to perform.
It is an accusation they say is supported by photos and video obtained by whistleblowers, and one that circus representatives have consistently sought to refute.
“They are a prized symbol,” Feld Entertainment spokesman Stephen Payne said Thursday. “We want to make sure the stars of the show are taken care of. Regardless of species, all animals are a top priority.”
Protestors said baby elephants are often wrestled to the ground by men trying to teach the animals complicated positions. They also allege that animals are broken in by being tied to concrete floors for long hours and separated from their mothers.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports, Feld Entertainment has not been cited for non-compliance since 2011, when the company was fined $270,000 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.