May 5, 2014
10:12 AM
The Connecticut Story

Despite Accident Ringling Bros. Hartford Show (and Protests) to Go On

Despite Accident Ringling Bros. Hartford Show (and Protests) to Go On

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

As animal rights activists were preparing to protest upcoming performances in Hartford by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the dangers faced by circus performers took center stage. 

On Sunday, nine performers from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were injured during a performance in Rhode Island, when a large stage apparatus known as the “human chandelier,” which holds performers by their hair high above the ground, collapsed. The accident occurred during the 11 a.m. performance at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence. Eight performers were injured in the fall and one was injured on the ground in front of a horrified crowd.

Ringling Bros. emailed Connecticut Magazine a release about the accident Monday afternoon stating "None of the injuries are considered life threatening. The accident is currently under review by both our company and outside authorities.  It has been determined that a carabiner [also called a D-ring] in the rigging failed, however we do not know at this point why.  Determining why is critical to identifying the next step in this process.  The safety of our cast, staff and crew, as well as our guests, is our highest priority. We will continue to inspect all of our equipment on our touring shows, and we are replacing every carabiner on this unit before the next performance." 

(See a video of the accident below)

The remaining Rhode Island shows were cancelled but the show will go on in Hartford at the XL Center as planned—and so will the protests of how circus animals are allegedly treated.

"Lisa Grossman, of Jacksonville Florida, who helps organize protests in advance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey tour stops throughout the country, said the protest in Connecticut will proceed, and added that the injured performers have their sympathy.

Emotions are high because these people choose to work where others are openly hurt and abused. But they're someone's kids, parents, siblings, etc. and it's so heartbreaking to hear of anyone being in such a horrible accident,” said Grossman, who urges a boycott of all circuses that feature animals. She added, “[Most people] believe its okay to mistreat other species in ways they wouldn't accept for themselves—we are not that so many prayers are going out for [the injured performers] and their families.”

Deb Robinson of West Hartford is organizing the Connecticut protest, which will take place outside the XL Center on Thursday, May 8, at 6 p.m. (the opening night in Hartford). Robinson also runs a Facebook group called In Defense of Elephants. She said she tends to focus on the treatment of elephants but that other animals face similar dangers.

"The training methods for elephants are basically brutal,” she said. “They  have to be dominated, and with any form of dominance training, particularly when you're dealing with a huge wild animal, the training generally involves inflicting pain to make sure that the animal knows who's boss. The elephants don't necessarily need to be hit a lot but they're certainly aware that they can be hit.”

She added that elephants and other animals in the circus don’t get enough exercise, are often cramped in crowded trains for travel, can be forced to perform when they’re sick or injured, and develop chronic health problems from captivity and the tricks they perform during shows.

“Life in the circus basically deprives them of everything that's natural,” she said. “In the wild they tend to be on their feet and moving for 20 hours a day.”

In 2011, Feld Entertainment Inc. which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus agreed to pay a record $270,000 fine to settle charges that it violated federal animal welfare laws. That same year Mother Jones published an investigative piece about the company’s animal treatment called “The Cruelest Show on Earth.”

Stephen Payne, vice president, corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, Inc., said the claims of animal rights activists are untrue and that the company takes great care and pride in the treatment of its animals.

“All of the performances you see at Ringling Bros. are based on the animals’ natural behaviors. Yes, elephants do stand on their heads, I have personally seen it,” he said. “Each species travels in custom-built enclosures, with the cats and other animals going overland and the horses and elephants travelling by rail. The elephants specifically travel in specially- designed rail cars with climate control, video monitoring, food and water. One of our professional team actually rides in each car with the elephants should they need any attention. We also build in rest stops for the animals, and people, along the way, usually about every four hours.”

Payne said the animals are not trained through negative reinforcement and veterinary technicians watch them constantly to make sure they are healthy.

"An advantage of our animal care professionals spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with these animals is they can see quite quickly if an animal is not healthy. We do not, despite the animal rights groups’ claims, make sick or injured animals perform. That’s just not the case.”

He added, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is a 144-year old American tradition and one of the few places families can experience entertainment together. The number one reason people say they come to the circus is for the animals, especially the elephants. I would encourage everyone to see [the animals] for themselves and if they have questions, we are happy to answer them.”


Despite Accident Ringling Bros. Hartford Show (and Protests) to Go On

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