Opponents speak up as circus comes to town

Jesse Moya jmoya@taosnews.com The Taos News
Posted 5/3/17

While hundreds of cars poured into an empty parking lot across from Walmart in Taos, a handful of animal rights demonstrators took to the scene Monday (May 1) as the Carson and Barnes Circus entertained …

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Opponents speak up as circus comes to town

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The Taos News

While hundreds of cars poured into an empty parking lot across from Walmart in Taos, a handful of animal rights demonstrators took to the scene Monday (May 1) as the Carson and Barnes Circus entertained the masses with its "Circus Saurus" show.

As one of the last circuses touting animals in its act, Carson and Barnes, based out of Hugo, Oklahoma, carried on the age-old tradition of circus entertainment for two shows of full crowds Monday. The circus utilizes elephants, horses, camels and miniature horses in its act, which employs a 60-person crew to run the performances in small towns across the country. The two elephants in the circus are on display in their pens before and after shows and are available for $10 elephant rides for small children.

"We're really proud that we still have our elephants," said ringmaster Erik Bautista. "The care that we give the elephants is unlike anything. The elephants are always out in the view of the public."

For more than 80 years, the Carson and Barnes Circus has been touring the country and giving family-friendly entertainment to its patrons. Jugglers, acrobats, clowns and other traditional circus acts make up the Carson and Barnes show traveling around the country. Bautista says the circus is regularly inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding its animals and that as long as the elephants are kept healthy, there is no chance of them being removed from the show.

Several opponents to the use of animal entertainment in the show turned out to challenge that notion with signs and pamphlets of literature against the event. Speaking out in opposition to the circus, demonstrators tried to discourage patrons from supporting the circus and tried to educate people driving into the event. With several successful attempts, demonstrators say they feel they made an impact on a select amount of families.

"Cruelty to animals isn't entertainment. This is not a natural thing for animals to do," said Carrie Thompson of the Taos Vegan Society. "[The circus owners] have profit in mind."

Several animal rights groups allege that the Carson and Barnes Circus has violated the Animal Welfare Act numerous times in the past and that the animals are mistreated and sometimes abused.

Most recently, in March of 2014, the circus is alleged to have mistreated the elephants by failing to safely see them into their pen after a show in front of 8,000 people at a Missouri show caused the elephants to become stressed and erratic. Handlers lost control of the animals and one was cut as it tried to get away from the noise, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

In addition, in April of 2014, the handlers of the elephants allegedly stopped the elephants and allowed them to drink water too close to a public area, where a child was photographed directly behind the animals as they drank, according to the USDA lawsuit.

Other alleged infractions against the circus include perimeter fence violations and animal handling violations, including failure to supervise and failure to provide veterinary care, with some dating back more than 15 years.

Carson and Barnes Circus was issued a civil penalty of $16,000 for these infractions and the matter was settled in April 2015.

"We're opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses and other traveling shows," said Debra Leahy, manager of Captive Wildlife Protection for the U.S. Humane Society. "Animals are trained using abusing methods and when they're kept on the road, it deprives them the ability to express any natural behaviors."

According to Bautista, the circus performs around 500 shows per year and often puts on two to three shows per day. The circus arrived in Taos at around 11 a.m. Monday and was headed to Española for two shows Tuesday (May 2).

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