Hundreds protest Ringling Brothers Circus for animal cruelty

Animal rights activists surround Bankers Life Fieldhouse before the Ringling Brothers Circus.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hundreds of protesters showed up Thursday night at the Ringling Brothers Circus downtown. They’re upset about the way circus animals, especially elephants, are treated during training.

“I want to do all that I can to help these animals who have no voice,” protester Diane Schubath said.

Inside Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, third generation circus worker Joey Frisco was preparing for opening night as the protests began.

“Bonnie move up. Bonnie move up. Kelly come here,” he said as he walked through the elephant holding area.

“They beat their elephants. That’s the only way they can get them to perform unnatural tricks. It’s horrific,” Schubath said.

The animal rights activists say bull hooks, like the ones shown in a 2009 video, are used to hurt the elephants. Frisco said it’s just a guide.

24-Hour News 8 showed our behind the scenes video to Schabath, but it didn’t convince her that the circus has changed its ways.

“Obviously, it’s staged,” she said. “It’s part of Ringling’s PR. I mean they’re a huge multi-million dollar company and I could see why they want good PR.  They don’t want people to know what happens behind the scenes.”

“It’s just blown out of proportion and they’re going so extreme. They don’t want to learn anything about it. They don’t care what we do,” Frisco said.

Frisco claims the hooks used on the video aren’t used anymore. He uses a much smaller tool, but the protesters say there’s no proof that cruel training techniques have stopped. It’s an argument bound to go on as circus fans flock to the show.

Leaders with the Indiana Animal Rights Alliance, which organized the protest, said it does support circus acts that do not use animals, such as Cirque du Soleil. They said they are also efforting an ordinance within Indianapolis banning wild animals used in circuses. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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