Circus’ appearance at T&M draws animal rights activists
The hardest thing for Debora Toro and her contingent of animal rights activists to understand was why the motorists that honked the loudest for their demonstration against the Ringling Bros. circus were always the ones speeding past to watch the show.
The famed travelling circus may have attracted thousands to UNLV to see its ‘Built to Amaze!’ performance last weekend featuring “magnificent elephants” and “ferocious tigers,” but it also drew the ire of PETA members and activists who stood outside of the Thomas & Mack Center protesting what they allege is animal abuse committed by the circus.
On June 13, the opening day of the circus, a group of about 25 put on a show of their own for passersby and local press with bikini-clad demonstrators and elephant costumes.
“If you ask me, this is slavery,” Toro said about the animals used in the performances, especially the elephants. “They spend all day in chains.”
“Vegas is proof you don’t need [that],” she said. “Look at the Cirque shows. They’re full every night.”
Toro and her group held aloft signs depicting alleged mistreatment of elephants, showing them in chains presumably in the captivity of circus staff. They also allege that the elephants are abused with hooked implements to ensure compliance. The Ringling Bros. maintain that no abuse takes place, but the circus has a history of legal battles with the United States Department of Agriculture. The circus was fined $270,000 by the USDA after government inspectors allegedly found evidence of non-compliance with animal welfare laws.
But the legal battle hasn’t been one-sided against Ringling Bros. The circus won $9.3 million in a settlement after it was revealed that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals paid a former Ringling Bros. employee to testify in a lawsuit alleging animal cruelty. The circus also maintains the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida, which they say is dedicated to the “conservation, breeding and understanding” of elephants, though animal rights activists take issue with that as well.
On Friday evening as the demonstrations were already half over, the demonstrators were no less enthusiastic and said the response they received — measured in honks from passing motorists — was mostly positive. But many of those who seemed to show support for the demonstrators drove right past them and into the Thomas & Mack parking lot, confusing many of the activists.
Toro, who is not a member of PETA, attributed it to the public’s general support of the animal rights message, though it’s still not enough to keep them away from the events. She said she made sure demonstrators were civil and not antagonistic to try to repair the public image of animal rights activism that many feel is harmed by some of PETA’s more confrontational demonstrations such as pie-throwing and throwing red paint on individuals who wear fur.
“I think it’s been good because we’ve been nice and peaceful. If I scream and yell it impacts us badly,” she said. “As a leader I feel obligated [to tell protesters] not to be nasty.”
According to her, PETA organized the demonstrations through an event on Facebook but only showed up for opening day. Local activists held down their turf next to Swenson Street for the remaining two days.
The protests went mostly without incident. Thomas & Mack security reported that a few activists attempted to get close to fencing used to separate the parking lot from the staging area used by the circus to house animals and performers. The Ringling Bros. set up freight containers along the southern perimeter of the staging area, shielding the animal holding area from public view.
Activist Adrian Castrejon has demonstrated at protests like this for two years. He said he believes in animal liberation, but that he feels the rest of society may not ever fully stop using animals for entertainment or sustenance.
“I think it’s important to be out here and relay that message,” he said. “I’m not naive, I understand that animals are a big part of us as a society.”
Toro, who is active in other local demonstrations against commercial dog breeders and wild horse roundups by the Bureau of Land Management, said that her group would still oppose the circus even if they were satisfied that the animals weren’t being mistreated.
“They’re wild and they’re meant to be wild,” she said.