The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus begins a seven-day run at Staples Center tonight, with several animal rights groups planning protests outside the arena before every performance over alleged mistreatment of animals.
"Animals in circuses are suffering at the hands of their captors every day," Last Chance for Animals said in a statement sent to City News Service.
The statement accused the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus of chaining elephants for long periods and repeatedly abusing animals to get them to perform tricks.
"Anyone wanting to understand a piece of the misery these animals go through should stand out in the 100-plus degree weather right now and be chained and forced to stand or lie in one spot for 23 hours out of the day, with no stimulation," it said.
Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, called the allegations of cruelty toward animals, "completely unfounded and untrue."
"These are the same tired recitation of misrepresentation that these organizations put out every single time we come to Los Angeles," Payne told City News Service.
"We're very proud of our animal care. What these allegations are is an insult to the men and women who spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week caring for our animals."
Payne said he would "challenge most of the people who will be out there protesting if they know the first thing about how to care for an 8,000-pound Asian elephant, or a group of endangered tigers or a dog."
In April, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to ban the use of "bullhooks" and other types of goads and prods employed in wrangling elephants in circuses and other shows, which Payne said would "effectively prevent Ringling Bros. from bringing the circus to Staples Center" when it goes into effect in 2017.
Payne said the circus is seeking to reach a compromise with the City Council to allow it to continue to come to Staples Center after 2016.
"There are successful circuses that delight and thrill audiences that do not utilize implements of pain and torture on elephants," said Paul Neuman, director of communications for Councilman Paul Koretz, who introduced the ordinance banning bullhooks. "Circuses have been given time to adjust."
When the ordinance was adopted, Koretz said, "This is not a vote against circuses. The circus is welcome in Los Angeles, just without bullhooks."
Payne said elephants were the No. 1 reason people attend the circus and "we're not just going to drop them off when we play Los Angeles."
The Humane Society of the United States, several animal rights groups, a law firm representing them and several current and former attorneys with the firm completed payment of $14.75 million to Feld Entertainment this year to settle cases they brought against Ringling Bros. over the care of their Asian elephants.
The money covers Feld Entertainment's legal fees and a related Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations action that Feld Entertainment brought against the groups after discovering they had a paid a plaintiff for his participation in the original lawsuit and then attempted to conceal those payments, Payne said.
Feld Entertainment's legal counsel in the case, John Simpson, called the lawsuit "a colossal abuse of the justice system."
Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals, one of the parties in the case, said "the court never ruled on the central question of abuse of circus elephants in this 14-year-old case and the groups and their lawyers decided to settle the cases and avoid incurring additional costs."
The show is titled "Legends," where circus stars meet mythological creatures. It features more than 100 human performers from 25 nations, including the China National Acrobatic Troupe, and more than 85 animals.
"Legends" combines the traditional clown, elephant, lion and tiger acts with the new double trapeze, on which four consecutive triple somersaults will be attempted, equestrian stunts by the Cossack Riders and the Globe of Steel motorcycle daredevils.
Each show will be preceded by the all-access pre-show, where one hour before the start of the circus ticket holders can go to the arena floor and meet performers, learn circus skills and more.
Tickets for opening night are $15 and for the remainder of the run are priced at $26, $30, $40, $45, $75, $85, $125 and $155.
The $125 and $155 tickets are in the new "Ringmaster Zone," which offers ticket holders the opportunity to walk the Ringling Red Carpet, meet ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson and the stars of the show, step inside the Globe of Steel, take pictures on the ringmaster's float and have an up-close elephant encounter.
Here is the schedule for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at Staples Center:
- Today at 7:30 p.m
- Thursday at noon and 7:30 p.m.
- Friday at noon and 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
- Monday at 7:30 p.m.
- Tuesday at noon and 7:30 p.m.
Following its run at Staples Center, the circus will be at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario from July 18-22 and Honda Center in Anaheim from July 25-Aug. 3.
—City News Service