(Left to right) Shyane Maestra, Shelly Weir and Christina Dryden protest what they say is animal cruelty going on at the Carson & Barnes 5-Ring Circus on Monday at the Curry County Fairgrounds. CNJ staff photo: Mike Linn.
By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ staff writer
Visitors to the Carson & Barnes 5-Ring Circus got an unexpected sight at the gate Monday night — a woman pretending to use a bull hook to beat her daughter, who was dressed up as a circus elephant. Three other women held protest signs.
“Until animal acts are out of circuses the violence will not stop,” protest organizer and Clovis resident Christina Dryden said. “Any circus that has animal acts presents animal cruelty. The animals are held captive, forced to do shows. That is not what elephants are supposed to be doing.”
Riene Wyatt, the mother with the bull hook, objected to the training methods used in circuses.
“The means they use to train these animals are horrific,” Wyatt said. “Bullhooks, blowtorches and worse.”
The circus held two shows in Clovis Monday night. The circus will have shows in Las Vegas, N.M., tonight.
Joe Frisco III, a third-generation elephant trainer with the circus, said the protesters don’t know what they’re talking about because they haven’t worked with the animals.
“You’re not going to get a 10,000-pound animal to do anything it doesn’t want to do,” Frisco said. “Animals at this circus come first. In the wild every day they are hunted for their trunks, killed because the population is too big and there is no room for them.”
Dryden, who said she is a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said they received a mixed reaction from circus patrons as they passed out literature to people entering the gates.
“Clovis lacks public awareness,” Dryden said. “We’ve been flipped off, called names, but some people asked us more questions and some have turned away from the circus.”
Animal rights activists called Clovis police urging them to conduct an inspection, but Police Chief Bill Carey said Capt. Leon Morris and animal inspectors found no cause to issue a citation.
“Leon got an e-mail from somebody and went out to have animal control check on (the animals),” Carey said. “They had food, water, were healthy, they looked well-taken care of and they didn’t find any problems at all.”
Failing to find problems didn’t surprise Wyatt, who said she regularly reports animal cruelty to the Clovis police.
“Animal care in general is poor here,” Wyatt said. “As far as animals are concerned, they have substandard care and it’s OK with Clovis.”
Frisco said he didn’t know why the protesters accused his circus of using blowtorches in training and said animals are trained using humane methods to do on command things they would be doing naturally in the wild.
“I don’t sleep as good as these elephants do,” Frisco said. “What I say comes from my heart because I love these elephants and I work with them every day. They are trained with no force.”
Frisco said attention-grabbing circus acts are modeled after similar acts animals do in the wild.
“You watch any tape in the wild, and I guarantee that you will see elephants getting up on their rear legs and reaching into the trees to get food,” he said. “When they come down on their heads, that is used to kill or crush other animals that are attacking them.”