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Despite L.A. Cruelty Ban, Circus Returns to Face Animal Rights Protesters

Despite L.A. Cruelty Ban, Circus Returns to Face Animal Rights Protesters
Ringling Bros./Feld Entertainment

In April, the L.A. City Council enacted a ban on cruelty to elephants that, some predicted, would put circus shows out of business, at least in our town.

See also: The Circus Probably Has No Future in L.A. After Bullhook Ban

The ban covers bullhooks, bats, ax handles and other "training" devices. Circus organizers say bullhooks, at least, are necessary to keep elephants compliant. So why is the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus coming back to town today, along with its elephants?

As is the case with many of the laws the City Council enacts, the ban was showy but without teeth:

The law doesn't kick in until 2017. Still, PETA is not happy with Ringling Bros.' return. The group is planning a demonstration outside Staples Center today.

This isn't just any protest. The animal rights group says 50 children and their families will take part during the noontime event outside Staples Center, where Ringling Bros. begins a seven-day run starting at 7:30 tonight.

PETA alleges that Ringling Bros. handlers subject elephants to sheer cruelty:

 ... Baby elephants used by Ringling are stretched out, slammed to the ground, gouged with steel-tipped bullhooks — weapons that resemble fireplace pokers with a sharp steel hook on one end — and shocked with electric prods. These abusive sessions go on for several hours a day in order to force the baby elephants to obey out of fear of punishment. 

Stephen Payne, a vice president of communications for Ringling Bros.' parent company, Feld Entertainment, says bullhooks are a humane and U.S. Department of Agriculture–recognized way of training elephants.

"It's like a leash for your dog," he told us. "This is the tool that experts recognize is necessary for work with animals of this size. They [PETA] don't have a clue. We're the experts."

Payne said that, in the two and a half years until the bullhook ban goes into effect, Ringling Bros. will be trying to "get a compromise that would allow us to continue to bring elephants and Ringling Bros. to Staples Center."

He said Ringling Bros.' annual run downtown is worth $3 million in economic impact for L.A., according to a study commissioned by his employer.

In terms of caring for animals, Payne said, "We hope L.A. families can come out and see for themselves."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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