Speak out for Circus Animals protests against Ringling Brothers’ visit to Greensboro

by Allison Stalberg

The circus has come to town. Cars rolled into the Greensboro Coliseum Complex to see the clowns, acrobats, and exotic animals. As the families came in to see the 7:00 p.m. showing, they likely passed a group of bundled figures holding signs. Speak out for Circus Animals is a six-year-old organization that seeks to educate and raise awareness of the cruelty done to circus animals. The organization’s goal is to ban wild animals from the circus. A group of 30 to 40 people stood out in the freezing cold, each holding signs in their gloved hands. Colleen Smith and Martha Cecil, the event’s organizers, were happy to talk about their passion for animal rights. “We want to educate people about the training practices,” said Smith. “The animals are living a miserable life for just two hours of our entertainment.” Among the abuses the animals go through are small cages, constantly moving from city to city and learning tricks out of fear. Cecil and Smith shared that countries such as Bolivia, Greece, Peru, Austria and others have set bans on circuses with exotic animals. Even cities like Asheville in our home state have a ban on circuses with exotic animals.

Smith remembers taking her 4-year-old daughter to the circus. It was six years ago when her daughter later educated her about the abuse circus animals go through. Just looking up the evidence online of the cruel training and small cages made Smith a passionate advocate for saving circus animals. What most disturbed people like Cecil was the treatment of the elephants, whose intelligence only makes the abuse more disturbing. Among the signs were the words, “An elephant never forgets,” and pictures of bullhooks jabbing the creatures. Bullhooks are used specially for elephant training. The tool consists of a hook made of steel and cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland in California have them banned. The circus dubbed the tool as an “elephant guide.” The Ringling Brothers plan to retire some of their elephants this year, but Smith and Cecil do not think the animals will be happy. The elephants will go to a conservation property of 200 acres and will still be connected to the circus. Usual conservation properties for elephants are at least 2,000 acres. Other protestors such as Erin Nelson describe circus entertainment as an illusion. “It’s inherently cruel and breaks the animal’s will,” she said.

As the sun set, the already cold evening turned into a freezing night. Despite the temperature drop, the activists stayed by the coliseum entrance. Some cars went by honking and giving the group a thumb’s up. Approval and disapproval, the group had experienced both. Smith even recalled a time a woman told her she did not care that the animals were abused. Their activism does not end when the organization leaves. They raised money to put up a billboard from the Feb 7-14. People like Smith and Cecil make sure that wherever the circus goes, a protest follows. With the Ringling Brothers coming to Greensboro every February, the group is vigilant each year.