Protests Planned Outside of Ringling Bros. Show at TD Garden

PETA and other animal activists don’t think elephants should be used in circus performances.

The circus is in town, and people aren’t pleased about it.

With Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at TD Garden, to put on a show through the weekend, animal rights activists are preparing to congregate outside of the arena to protest the performance.

Members of PETA, and In Defense of Animals, have teamed up with locals to voice their concerns about the circus’ use of elephants and other live animals in their acts. “If the children knew what was going on behind the scenes there would be no way they would go into the circus,” said Jessica Thibodeau, who organized a Facebook event page for the protests planned outside of TD Garden over the next three days.

Thibodeau, who has two young kids, said she has been working closely with several organizations to help “educate” people about the harms done to animals forced to take part in circus performances. “The long hours in chains and transport cars, the abusive training techniques, the way they rip families a part…it’s the antithesis of what elephants should be doing. Once you learn more about them, you can see that. When you break them apart as a family, and make them do these stupid tricks for these families, it’s completely unnatural, and unethical, and I think it’s just all about money,” she said.

Ringling has long dealt with protests from people and large organizations, claiming they mistreat their animals—specifically the elephants. In 2012, Feld Entertainment, the parent company that puts on the circus shows, reached a legal settlement with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in connection with two federal court cases, after they claimed the ASPCA and other groups “attempted to destroy” the business through “targeted, malicious rhetoric” and lawsuits.

In a separate case in 2011, Feld Entertainment paid a $270,000 fine to settle allegations that it violated federal animal-welfare laws, however.

Besides the organized protests, PETA also hosts a website called “Ringling Beats Animals,” where they highlight the alleged “mistreatment” of the elephants with videos, photos, and documents.

Stephen Payne, a spokesperson for Ringling Bros., said he isn’t surprised that people are planning on setting up protests outside the TD Garden entrance, but he hopes it doesn’t “ruin the experience” for families that want to be there. “The activists are a headache. We hope customers can see past them, and see how healthy and vibrant our animals are. We have been taking care of Asian elephants for 144 years. We are proponents of animal welfare wherever we go,” he said, adding that while he respects their first amendment rights, he doesn’t agree with their tactic. “They are entitled to their own opinion, but they make a number of broad-brushed allegations about our animal care that just aren’t true.”

Thibodeau said regardless of what circus organizers say, video and research she has done on her own terms is what brought her to the conclusion that involving live animals in acts isn’t “right,” and even if only a few circus attendees listen, that’s enough to incite change in peoples’ behaviors.

“These are peaceful protests, this isn’t a radical protest. It’s about educating the families coming in,” she said. “I’m hoping some people turn around once they hear the truth. Some won’t, and will call us crazy, but we are hoping people take the information, do their own research, and find other family friendly entertainment that does not involve animal abuse. Awareness is key.”

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be in town through the weekend. On Tuesday, the group dressed up one of their elephants in Red Sox baseball gear—something Payne said doesn’t hurt the animals—and on Thursday, the elephants will have lunch in the North End with first responders.

  • MissKittyFantastico

    Many countries have already banned circuses (with animals). We are behind the times on this issue.

  • Colleen Smith

    All people need to do is just do a search on youtube for circus animal abuse. There is plenty of undercover footage. These elephants are sometimes chained up to over 50+ consecutive hours. We do not want the circus to go away, we just want the circus not to use wild animals.

  • Barbara Lovett

    The Feld Corporation has a lot of money to throw around to spin the truth about what really happens to elephants in the circus, both behind the scenes and in front of the audience. Whenever you see a bullhook in the hands of the “trainer” (I prefer to call him/her “abuser”), there is blatant abuse. The bullhook is meant to intimidate the elephant, and behind the scenes, that bullhook has been used to beat and tear the skin of the elephant. Look at those elephants a little more closely, and you will see the scars of their “training”. It is horrible, and it needs to stop. Wake up, America!!

  • Helen Tam-Semmens

    It is so sad that we are still enslaving elephants to entertain us. Elephants’ suffering shouldn’t be our entertainment. I know people and kids love elephants so they want to go see them. But not knowing that it has actually caused tremendous suffering to the elephants they love. Time to stop going to circuses so that all the suffering elephants will be released to a safe sanctuary.

  • jjm1949

    Circuses have been preying on children’s innocents and adults nostalgia for over a century, all the more reason that parents need to be better informed about the events they make memories with their children at. Many of Ringling’s elephants were kidnapped from their families in the wild when they were babies, then shipped to circuses here in America where they continue to be beaten and abused with bullhooks and tasers to make them perform and to profit Ringling.

  • Charron P

    People who believe that having elephants (& other wild animals in
    traveling circuses) is humane need to educate themselves, or just use your common sense and think about things for a minute. Simply go online and read up on it. If you don’t want to do that, like I said, think logically. Think of the size of the elephant. Think about how and where the elephant would have to be kept during various times of a typical day, 365 days of the year, as part of a traveling circus. The FACTS are that elephants (& tigers & other wild animals) are horribly and cruelly confined in order to be transported about the country and
    only temporarily kept at the various locations for usually a day or two.
    They are typically chained by the ankle and forced to stand such that
    they can move only a step or two in any direction, and kept this way
    almost every hour of each 24 hr. day. Sometimes after setting up the
    circus tent is completed they may have an extremely small outside area surrounded by an electric fence. During the night, and in bad weather, they are forced to spend it inside a truck or in arena basements. And of course when they are en route to their next location they are confined and hauled around in the back of trucks for hours and hours, and then when arriving at their destination have to stay in those trucks typically for many more hours while waiting for things to get setup. Ringling Bros. transports most of the time via trains, 50 boxcars, with their Red and Blue Units each covering 16,000 miles annually to perform in 30-plus cities. Data in court case testimony re Ringling revealed that the elephants traveled 26 hours
    straight on average. Some legs extended beyond 70 hours without a break. The longest stretch: 100 hours on a 1,830-mile journey from Lexington, Kentucky, to Tucson, Arizona. Up to five elephants are crammed in each boxcar. The average elephant produces approximately 15 gallons of urine and 200-plus pounds of solid
    waste in a 24-hour period. Former circus workers described the
    unbearable stench when they opened the cars for water stops—during which they typically replenished supplies without letting the animals out. For more on this read this Pulitzer Prize winning article: So I have only touched on the confinement. There also is the extremely well documented, and admitted to, physically abusive training techniques that are how the elephants are forced to do the “tricks” for the circusgoer’s amusement. Just educate yourself by visiting any one of countless respected websites, such as those of ADI (Animal Defenders
    International),, Also there is an excellent very detailed extensive publication by Animal Defenders International on the Science of Suffering (re wild animals in traveling circuses) which you can read: