An elephantine tussle 

Charges continue to be hurled like, well, elephant dung between animal-rights activists and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. With the circus in town last week, Orlando was ground zero in the fight, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaigned to counterattack Ringling's own media barrage, which was unleashed when the circus recently was cleared in California of animal abuses.

In a full-page ad in The New York Times and other publications earlier this month, Ringling accused PETA and similar activist groups of illegally confiscating animals and providing funding for organizations that destroy property. PETA, which denies the charges, responded with an ad that accuses the circus of continuing to punish its elephants with bullhooks -- clubs with sharp steel hooks -- and forcing them into a life of "suffering and servitude." PETA's campaign will continue as the circus treks around the state.

With the support of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, PETA protested at Ringling's Orlando opening on Jan. 17, showing unsettling footage of animal abuse to circusgoers as they arrived at the T.D. Waterhouse Centre.

What does PETA expect to accomplish? The goal, says PETA spokeswoman Jane Garrison, is an "animal-free circus. We're not against Ringling Bros. In fact, we think they could do very well with a circus that retires the outdated animal acts and features only talented human performers who choose to be part of the show. If Cirque du Soleil can do it and wow audiences worldwide, Ringling can do it, too."

Still, with the cost of talent (and tickets) for an all-human troupe like Cirque du Soleil higher than for the animal-driven "Greatest Show on Earth," one wonders how quickly complaints would pour in that poor, abused people were being forced to work for peanuts.

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More by William A. Sievert


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