“On March 14th, the Osiris Shrine Circus is coming to Wheeling, WV,” a petition on Care2 reads. “They promise animal acts that include elephants and tigers, as well as opportunities for children to ride and pet different animals.” Let’s break down exactly why this must be stopped.

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First, circuses that include animal acts are rife with abuse, and Shrine Circuses are no different. Elephants, for example, are “broken” and forced to perform through the use of bullhooks – clubs or sticks with sharp hook ends that trainers use to poke, hit, and beat elephants into submission. This was witnessed at the Al Chymia Shrine Circus in Memphis, Tennessee when a featured elephant trainer was “videotaped viciously attacking terrified elephants with sharp metal bullhooks and electric prods. Frisco had instructed other trainers to hurt the elephants until they screamed and to sink the bullhook into their flesh and twist it and had cautioned that the beatings must be concealed from the public.”

The Shrine Circus itself was not cited for this abuse, even though it paid for and hosted such damaging mistreatment, because, according to PETA, “[t]he Shrine Circus does not possess an animal exhibitor license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).” Instead, the animals are “leased from outside companies, including Tarzan Zerbini Circus, George Carden Circus, Jordan World Circus, Hawthorn Corporation, Royal Hanneford Circus, Franzen Bros. Circus, and Circus Hollywood.”

The Hawthorne Corporation, for example, has been charged with many USDA violations, including “using physical abuse to train, handle, and work an elephant; causing physical harm and discomfort; failing to provide veterinary care to an emaciated elephant; failure to provide veterinary care to an elephant suffering with severe chemical burns and a bacterial infection; failure to provide veterinary care to several elephants with potentially deadly foot problems; and unsafe public contact.” Similarly, the George Carden Circus was cited by the USDA “for failure to provide veterinary care to an elephant named Judy, who had three open wounds on her forehead and one open wound on her left front leg.”

Elephants aren’t the only animals subject to such abuse at Shrine Circus events, unfortunately. Hawthorn Corporation has been cited multiple times for “failure to provide adequate veterinary care.” These incidents have included a lion performing at the Shrine Circus in Springfield, Missouri, who suffered several lesions, “including a three-inch long open scrape on his right hip, and scabbed-over lesions at the base of his tail and on his left hip.” Three tigers forced to perform at the Arab Shrine Circus in Topeka, Kansas had “sores and spots of missing hair on top of their heads and near their eyes.” This is because, in addition to being beaten, or starved, as part of the “breaking” and training processes, these big cats spend their “off-time” in cages too tiny for them to lie and sleep naturally. These enclosures generally average four to five feet wide and eight feet in length, whereas the average tiger can be up to ten feet long.

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Wild animals are not physically, mentally or emotionally fit for such abuse and strict confinement, and like SeaWorld’s Tilikum, they are prone to lash out as a result. In addition to myriad incidents of trainers being trampled or attacked, visitors to the Shrine Circus, including more than a dozen children, have been injured by the elephants who are used to give rides.

The Shrine Circus often claims that these events are hosted as a means to raise money for sick kids, but one member admitted to The Edmonton Sun that these funds instead go toward “administrative costs,” whereas, “[a] New York Times examination of Shrine records found that more than 57 percent of the $32 million raised in 2005 through circuses, bingo, and other fundraising events went to Shriner activities and temple expenses, including parties, liquor, and travel.”

It’s time to put these shenanigans to rest. Circuses that use animals don’t belong in the 21st- century, as big top productions like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey (who are shuttering their “tents”) have seen, nor do animal cruelty acts of any kind. Our nation’s cities need to get with the times and stop enabling such brutality.

Sign this petition on Care2 to urge city managers in Wheeling, WV to help lead this change by canceling this circus event and blocking any similar permits in the future.

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Image source: ICP_STOCK/Shutterstock

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