Elephant in the room: Animal rights activists plan protest

As of Jan. 1, elephants no longer will be allowed in any circuses performing in Illinois. The state is the first to ban elephants from circuses and similar traveling shows, a victory for animal welfare activists who have been protesting it for years.

The Kelly Miller Circus, which has made several trips to Marseilles over the years and other surrounding communities, will have elephants in Thursday’s shows.

“This will be the last time we have them in Illinois,” said Tavana Brown, Kelly Miller Circus general manager. “We told people (at past shows) if they like the elephants to start a petition. Write your governor a letter.”

The National Humane Society has led the cause to free not only elephants from performing or traveling in circuses, but also other animals.

Ottawa resident Nicole O’Shea has been vocal on the issue locally, organizing demonstrations prior to past circus shows in the area.

She doesn’t agree with natural animals performing tricks on command, being confined to small spaces, or not having their social and physical needs being met, among other issues.

“These animals are not owned, but leased by circuses,” she said. “They never get a break.”

She plans to be in Marseilles beginning at 3:30 p.m. Thursday — about an hour before the show — with a group sharing information on animal welfare. About 20 people have said on a Facebook event page they will participate in the protest.

She wants Illinois to take the next step with its law.

“We want people to think twice about the other animals,” said O’Shea, noting Illinois’ law only pertains to elephants. “Other states have prohibited traveling animal acts of any kind.”

More than 120 cities across 34 states have created laws against the use of animals in circuses.

“It’s evolving,” O’Shea said. “More and more laws are being made.”

Last year, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus made headlines when it bid farewell to its elephants.

Elephants have been used in the circus in America for more than 200 years. In the early 1800s, Hackaliah Bailey added the elephant “Old Bet” to his circus. P.T. Barnum added the African elephant he named “Jumbo” to “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1882.

“Elephants are an integral part of our show,” Brown said.

The Kelly Miller Circus still will include Illinois communities on its tour in 2018, Brown said, but the show will not have its elephants.

On its webpage, the circus said it meets federal animal welfare standards, noting its animals receive veterinary checkups every 30 days and has personnel in charge of regular care for the animals.

In Earlville, where the circus performed Wednesday, an elephant caregiver conducted a program for schoolchildren, allowing students to watch the large animal eat breakfast.

“This isn’t our choice,” Brown said of the future elephant law. “We want to bring them.”

Brown said shows throughout the state have been well attended, believing the law is a factor.

O’Shea said she will continue her efforts until the state makes more sweeping laws against the use of any animal performers in the circus.

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