Ringling’s Elephant in the Room

Why weren’t they beating the inflatable elephant?

“We wanna keep it, you know, family friendly,” said Tracy Patton, of PETA. “Keep a gentle visual.”

Hunkered on the corner of Chase Street and 9th Avenue, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals stood with their smallish inflatable elephant. Not beating it. Or prodding it with electrodes, or gouging it with a bullhook or anything much at all.

“We get a lot of beeps and waves,” said Jan Papra. “We want the public to know this isn’t harmless, innocent fun for the kids.”

The group of PETA protesters directed their shouts and signage across the street to the Pensacola Civic Center. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has come to town.

There’s a huge semi in the parking lot featuring an image of circus elephants wearing fancy caps. One of the PETA people wave a ‘BOYCOTT THE CIRCUS’ sign.

“They’re training tactics are highly hidden from the public,” said Patton.

PETA has forever dogged Ringling Bros. with charges of animal cruelty. At times, so have government regulators.

Recently, the circus agreed to a record $270,000 fine to settle charges that it violated federal animal welfare laws. No wrong-doing was admitted in the settlement.

In one incident logged by federal inspectors an Asian elephant was made to perform although in pain from possible sand colic. In 2008, inspectors reported that wheelbarrows used to transport meat to tigers was also used for moving waste.

In a letter published last week in the Pensacola News Journal, Steve Payne, Ringling’s vice president corporate communication, defended the circus.

“Everyone at Ringling Bros. takes great pride in presenting quality family entertainment, but animal rights activists continue to take photographs of elephant training techniques and use them to level spurious charges against our dedicated team of animal care professionals,” Payne wrote.

On the corner of 9th and Chase, Papra cites the quarter million dollar settlement. And mentions how some elephants eventually attack their trainer.

“Electric prods, hooks, tied down and it never stops,” Papra said. “A lifetime of abuse, anybody can snap.”