Families anticipating Ringling Bros. "Fully Charged" Circus Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia were greeted by a fully charged group of animal rights activists.
With shouts of "There's no excuse for animal abuse!" about two dozen protesters lined the sidewalks as cars packed with circus-goers slowly made their way toward the venue.
Protesters line sidewalk in front of Wells Fargo Center
Jason Treger runs the Animal Rights Group of Greater Philadelphia. He recently moved out of Philadelphia but drove 90 miles to make it to Saturday's protest.
A strict vegan, he explained, "Our main hope is that some of the people will think twice about coming to the circus in the future. I was just at a protest on the other side of the building and we were handing out DVD's with undercover footage at the circus." Many took the materials, he said, while others simply walked away.
There was little foot traffic at the Broad Street entrance and a lawsuit issued by Spectrum Arenas kept activists from engaging patrons in the parking lot of Wells Fargo. But, protesters on the sidewalk displayed signs reading "Warning: Animal Abuse Inside" and activist, Ed Coffin, walked up and down the line of cars with a bullhorn urging parents not to support Ringling's Circus.
Marianne Bessey, founder of Animal ACTivists of Philly, has been protesting Ringling Bros. for almost 10 years. "It's the treatment of the animals," said the Philadelphia lawyer. "If they stopped using animals I would probably be one of their biggest fans," noting that the animal acts make up a very small portion of the two-and-a-half hour show.
In an earlier interview with the Gloucester County Times, 24-year-old, Brian Crawford Scott, the third youngest master of ceremonies in Ringling's history, spoke about the excitement of working with the animals. "You never get over the novelty of watching an elephant walk by you. It's amazing," he exclaimed.
"I'd say that that's a very selfish thing," said Bessey. "If that's all you care about, being close to an elephant, no matter what cost to the elephant, then you need to get a heart transplant."
A mother and her young daughter drove by, the mother's hand shielding her own face while her daughter looked around quizzically from the backseat.
Reflecting on their reactions, Bessey said "You know one of our signs says 'shame on the parents,' because it really is the parents' fault. They think they're doing something fun for their children. But if children, who are very compassionate, knew the facts about the treatment of the animals, they would run screaming from the circus. They don't want animals to be abused for their entertainment. So, while the parents might be well-meaning they really need to examine their values here.
Kids get into the act at the Ringling protest
"There is definite documentation," she charged, "dozens of videos, evidence that came out in the court trial of the horrible treatment of these animals. The elephants are in the box cars for up to 100 hours traveling show to show. The baby elephants at Ringling's breeding center are separated from their mothers when they're still nursing. They're chained for 23 hours out of a day to break their spirits. They are beaten with bullhooks. All of this is factual information. It's not disputed by Ringling."
Bessey is referring to a lawsuit that animal welfare groups brought against Ringling Bros. Circus which was dismissed in 2009 due to lack of standing. She said that Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment which owns Ringling, "acknowledged on the witness stand that trainers did, indeed, hit the elephants with bullhooks, that it sometimes drew blood, stating it was a necessary correction to do the tricks that they do."
She went on to say that Feld, whose personal fortune is estimated by Forbes at $775 million, "doesn't see anything wrong with that."
Amy McWethy, Director of Corporate Communications for Feld Entertainment challenged Bessey's claims telling Opednews that a look at the whole court transcript would show Mr. Feld was responding to a question and that there was a lot of "word play" involved.