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After this weekend’s performances in Jacksonville and Sarasota, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will exit the state of Florida, and activists can take a well-deserved break. Over the past four weeks, animal rights activists have protested Ringling performances in each city of the circus’ tour through Florida.

The remark that we heard most of all from ARFF volunteers was surprise at the low attendance. At the Amway Arena in Orlando, half the arena was closed off with a curtain. In Miami, the American Airlines Arena seats almost 20,000 for basketball games; for smaller events like ice shows the arena can be configured to seat 10,000. But on Saturday, which should be one of the biggest days for the circus, the arena reported an estimated crowd of only 4,000 (from what we could tell, they didn’t draw even that many people).

Behind the arena in Miami, Ringling hosted an “Animal Open House,” during which the circus was on its best behavior. When we visited the open house we were handed a glossy brochure titled “Our Greatest Performances” which touted Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation, a breeding facility for elephants in Polk City (12850 Old Grange Road). The brochure left us scratching our heads.

It’s true that Ringling has successfully bred elephants; the brochure lists the birth date of each elephant born since 1992. But that’s not the whole story. Several of the young elephants listed in the brochure have died.

For example, Ringling’s brochure notes the July 30, 2005 birth of an elephant they named “Bertha.” What they don’t mention is that Bertha was dead by September of that year.

Then there’s Riccardo, born December 3, 2003. This infant elephant never saw his first birthday. In August 2004, Riccardo was euthanized after suffering severe fractures to both hind legs when he fell off a circus pedestal.

There’s also Benjamin, a 4-year-old elephant who drowned in a pond, and 3-year-old Kenny who died after a circus performance in Jacksonville in 1998.

You would think that Ringling would pretend these four elephants never existed, instead of promoting their births. Perhaps Ringling is hoping that circusgoers won’t ask about them?

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