BALTIMORE (WJZ)– A circus controversy is brewing downtown. Protesters crowded the streets on Ringling Bros.’ opening night, accusing the circus of cruelty to elephants. It’s the same issue that sparked a feud between Baltimore’s mayor and an A-list actress.
Kai Jackson has more on the clash.
Ringling Bros. bills itself as the Greatest Show on Earth. PETA calls it a show of shame and abuse.
Maryland families, many with children, made their way to the 1st Mariner Arena downtown on Wednesday, anxious to see Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“We like to see the animals and the clowns. You know, it’s a nice thing,” said Phillip Powell.
“It’s really fun. I like it,” said Maddie Lang.
Patrons had to navigate more than barkers trying to sell things. Many were faced with signs by animal rights activists from PETA. They accuse the circus of mistreating animals, especially the elephants.
“The only way to get a wild animal to perform these tricks is using violence and intimidation, which is why people can see for themselves elephants being beaten with heavy tip rods called bull hooks right before shows,” said Katie Arth, PETA.
The controversy made news earlier this month when Maryland actress Jada Pinkett Smith wrote Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asking her to protect the elephants, in part saying, “Unlike me and other actors, elephants do not choose to perform.” The mayor responded saying she could use the actress’s support on other pressing city issues.
“I’m a fan of the circus,” Rawlings-Blake said.
In a statement to Eyewitness News, Ringling Bros. says its circus exceeds all federal animal welfare standards.
Those we spoke with going to the circus say they respect PETA’s right to protest and don’t want to see animals abused but they also want to see proof that it’s occurring.
“Do they actually have proof of it? ‘Cause if they do, then I can understand but if they don’t, I don’t understand,” said Lindsay Sachs.
“I like that they have the cool animals and they do cool tricks but I don’t like that they’re abusing the animals,” said Anaya Womack.
PETA says it will give $5,000 to any worker at 1st Mariner who documents any Ringling employee using a bull hook on an elephant if the documentation results in a citation.
Ringling Bros. will be in Baltimore until Sunday, April 1.