Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Circus Xtreme kicked off Thursday night at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, promising an "x-traordinary" and "un-xpected" experience with "x-otic" animals through March 1.
But one experience that circus-goers may or may not have expected? More than 100 protesters camped out amid freezing temperatures on opening night, urging families to turn to non-animal circuses for entertainment.
"Animal circuses teach children that dominating animals for our entertainment is OK. We should be teaching children compassion, not oppression," Long Island-based animal rights group LION, who sent representatives along with PETA, NYCLASS, Ballerinas Against Bull Hooks and GooseWatchNYC, said in a statement.
PETA circulated a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report in January claiming that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey failed to give elephants their veterinarian-prescribed treatments for days at a time, but circus reps told North Carolina-based WBTV that the issue was merely a clerical error.
In 2011, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey paid the USDA $270,000 in a settlement for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act over a four year span.
New York Sen. Brad Hoylman, of district 27 in Manhattan, introduced a bill to ban the use of whips, bull hooks, chains or “inserting any instrument into any bodily orifice” of an elephant in January in anticipation of the cirus' arrival, the New York Post reported.
Stephen Payne, spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the company that owns Ringling's, told the Post that bull hooks are "the most humane and accepted elephant-husbandry tool."
But Ashley Byrne of PETA bashed the practice, telling the Public News Service that "baby elephants are jabbed with sharp bull hooks to force them to perform tricks out of fear of punishment."
New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, of district 67, known for her fight against animal cruelty that included penning a bill to ban cat declawing in January, has also introduced a bill to make "animal cruelty in the presence of a child" a Class D felony.
The participating animal activist groups say they plan to continue protesting at every Barclays Center circus performance.