Animal rights activists protest opening of Ringling Circus in Tampa
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01/05/12 Kelly Benjamin
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The Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus opened its multi-day run at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in downtown Tampa last night. But around 30 protesters gathered to voice discontent with the way animals are treated by the circus.

Organized by the group Animal Advocacy of Tampa Bay, the circus protest targeted the way trained animals, particularly elephants, are treated by the circus that bills itself as "The Greatest Show on Earth." Lane Giordano was one protester who braved the cold. As circus goers streamed by, she held a sign that read "buying a ticket supports animal cruelty."

"I'm here just because of the abuse, neglect, and harm that all the animals go through just for entertainment. Elephants do not naturally stand on their hind legs; they don’t naturally perform the tricks that you’ll see. Also they’re separated; the mothers and the babies are separated at a very young age. In the wild they normally stay together for years and years and years. So that why I’m here, just because of the cruelty that’s involved."

Late last year, the US Department of Agriculture slapped a $270,000 fine on Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Circus, for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act on multiple occasions from 2007 to 2011. Matt Bruce, a spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who also attended last night's protest in Tampa says the unprecedented fine is just a beginning and that the circus still mistreats its animals.

“This is the first step but these animals suffer through life at the end of a chain, they travel in box cars up to 50 weeks in a year, they were doing that yesterday and they still do it today. So this fine was great up it’s a first step on a long road.”

Outside of staging protests, Bruce says PETA has also taken the fight to stop animal suffering to the Mayor of Tampa.

“There’s a law here in Florida that you can’t force crippled elephants to perform in the Circus here in Florida. Since a lot of the elephants here at Ringling are lame, they’re arthritic, and they suffer horribly from these conditions. In fact, arthritis is the number one reason for euthanasia of captive elephants in the US. We’re calling on mayor Buckhorn to arrange thorough investigations of these animals, force these laws, and prohibit Ringling from using these crippled elephants during they’re performances here in Tampa.”

Animal Advocacy of Tampa Bay says it will continue its protest of the circus Friday, Saturday, and Sunday outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

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