The Jordan World Circus made its stop at the Benton Fairgrounds on October 25, and protesters eagerly waited with picket signs, stickers, and literature noting the antiquation of animal performances. Animal welfare activists lined the entrance to the fairgrounds, and Circus attendees entered Benton Arena to catch a glimpse of one of the few circuses that uses performance animals in the U.S.
“I want to send Jordan World Circus the message that we do not support animal abuse here in Corvallis, and circuses should retire their animals to sanctuaries to live as close to normal lives as they can get,” stated the protest’s organizer, Brittney West.
There were no chants, no violence, and no shaming. Occasionally, a megaphoned plea from protester Carol Alley, which urged circus-goers not to attend, pierced the silence of a mostly subdued picket line. And that’s what West wanted.
“It was a huge success. I saw more protesters than attendees,” West said. “We had a few couples walk in and leave.”
She, among other animal welfare activists, descended upon the fairgrounds in order to promote their message: ceasing of use of animals as a form of entertainment. With some circus attendees leaving in the middle of the performance, it became jubilant celebration for the protesters as they showered people’s change-of-heart with applause and cheers.
After the circus started, one of the performers confronted protesters to engage in a conversation regarding the treatment of the animals.
When asked by West whether Jordan World Circus uses chains on their animals, the performer defiantly responded, “Nope.”
The performer, dressed as a clown, declined to approximate the number of animals the circus has when asked, but did insist that “they are maintained, kept well, and treated better than what you think they are.”
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revoked Jordan World Circus’s license to exhibit animals, forcing the Las Vegas based company to rent their animals from the Carson & Barnes Circus based in Hugo, Oklahoma.
Although it is a common practice for circuses to rent and swap their animals from one company to another, 11 citations from the USDA were issued to Carson & Barnes Circus regarding the treatment of their animals, according to PETA. Three of the USDA citations referred to elephants either not receiving proper veterinary care, or the circus failing to provide documentation regarding proper veterinary care. The most recent citation of Carson & Barnes occurred on July 6, detailing an elephant escaping from its leg restraints and wondering into a residential neighborhood in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
As the first wave of circus-goers dwindled into the arena, the picketers moved to NW 53rd St. to show their signs and spread their word to passing drivers.
Two protesters, Julie Novak, 27, and Christina Berwick, who declined to identify her age, drove 40 miles from Eugene to help raise awareness.
“It’s an easy thing to not think twice about what’s happening to these animals,” said Novak, a special needs teacher in the Eugene 4-J School District. “I’m here to just spread awareness and have fun, and give a voice to the voiceless.”
Novak’s friend Christina Berwick came for another reason. A former Army police officer, Berwick became a vegan following a cancer diagnosis, which made her switch to a plant based diet. She explained that more so than last year, this year’s protest saw genuine agreement from passersby.
“People are better at receiving our signs,” she said. “There were a lot more negative comments last year like ‘go get a life’ or that sort of thing.”
One protester, Anthony Strumbo, 51, came to raise awareness of how animals are not just for the entertainment of humans.
“There’s other ways to teach your kids about animals,” Strumbo said, “and we need to be better about that.”
In a 2015 Gallup poll, 69 percent of Americans were at some degree “concerned” regarding animals in the circus. Two years later, state legislatures responded by enacting prohibitions on animal entertainment acts.
In August, Illinois made it a Class A misdemeanor to use an elephant as “a travelling entertainment act” carrying a penalty of one year in jail and $2,500 fine.
More recently, on October 19, New York passed the Elephant Protection Act prohibiting the authorization to use an elephant for entertainment. The New York law will not take effect until 2019, and it will carry a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation.
By Greg Kelly