SACRAMENTO, CA - Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opens a four-day run in Sacramento Friday with animal handlers defending their treatment of the elephants.
"Our animals receive the highest level of care," said assistant animal superintendent Ray Henning.
Henning was responding to reports that animal rights activists would gather outside the main entrance to urge circus patrons to stay away.
"We've got the largest sustainable herd of (elephants in captivity) in the western hemisphere, so yes-- we are a large target," he said.
Protest organizer Adrienne Ramirez expected several dozen people to join her at Sleep Train Arena Friday evening.
"Elephants were not put here on this earth to entertain humans," Ramirez said. "They deserve their own respect and they should have rights."
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has posted undercover video from 2009 showing handlers repeatedly striking elephants with what detractors call bullhooks.
Ringling Bros. acknowledges the video and said that although the elephants were not harmed, the treatment was not up to accepted standards.
"Sloppy elephant handling," Henning said. "The company took it seriously and worked with our animal care team to improve our animal handling methods."
Public Reacts To Protests
Protestors aren't the only animal lovers. Many of those coming to the circus share protestors' concerns, but also believe it's possible for a circus to be done humanely.
Before most performances, the public gets to tour the animal holding and get a first-hand look at how and where the animals live.
"I really love animals, and I hope they are not mistreated. I don't know, but I'd be out there with them if these animals were," Elena Alberts said from her seat at the circus just before the opening act.
"We don't like to see animals mistreated. As long as they're treated properly, it's fun to watch them," Leonard Thomas said waiting to buy popcorn at the concession stand.
The circus moves to Stockton next Friday, opening for three days at the Stockton Arena.
By George Warren, GWarren@news10.net, and Gabriel Roxas, GRoxas@news10.net