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Elephant outrage: activists to protest circus

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Elephants haven’t always had an easy time of it in Coney Island − they publicly fried one back in 1903 − but Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus promises to treat its performing pachyderms with the utmost care when the Coney Island “Boom A Ring” debuts next month.

Animal rights activists, however, aren’t waiting around for the circus big top to go up on West 21st Street and Surf Avenue to start protesting.

“PETA opposes Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey spending the summer in Coney Island,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals director of media relations Michael McGraw told Community Board 13 last week. “It is not necessary to have circus animals perform unnatural acts.”

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ “Boom A Ring” will feature three Asian elephants, seven white Bengal tigers and a group of dachshunds as part of its Coney Island production − the first it has staged under a big top tent since 1954.

Karl Schaffer of the New York League of Humane Voters charged that Ringling Bros. & Barum & Bailey “routinely uses beatings and other violence to train animals” and “applies something called Wonder Dust to cover up the wounds.”

Janice Aria, director of animal stewardship and training at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida, expressed astonishment over the accusations and guaranteed that all the circus animals in the Boom A Ring show will receive “absolutely phenomenal care.”

Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus Center for Elephant Conservation hosts 30 Asian elephants − including one newborn called Barack −− successfully conceived through artificial insemination.

According to Aria, there is no way to force an elephant to do anything.

“If they don’t have the predisposition and temperament [to perform], they’re not going to do it,” she said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals, the Animal Protection Institute and a former Ringling Bros. employee brought suit against the circus back in 2000 alleging elephant cruelty.

Attorneys for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus delivered closing arguments in March. The case is still pending.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg addressed the issue of animal cruelty a couple of weeks ago at Kaiser Park after announcing that the circus was coming to Coney Island this summer.

“A lot of these animals are a lot better off than they would be in the wild,” the mayor said. “They don’t face any more danger than the human performers.”

State Senator Carl Kruger took the Cole Brothers Circus to task back in 2004 when they set up their tent in Marine Park and featured a daredevil cat leaping into a pillow from a high perch.

Kruger said he wasn’t sure if he was happy or unhappy about Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus coming to Coney Island.

“Coney Island needs real intensive care, and it doesn’t get it by bringing in some makeshift circus,” he said.

Additional reporting by MichÈle De Meglio.

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