Local animal rights groups boycott circus, zoo

Amie Ninh
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PETA member Shari Pearson sports a jail-like minidress in effort to appeal to crowd, stand strong against circus.

In the days just before America's own independence celebration, cries of freedom for mistreated elephants arose from local animal welfare groups hoping to advance the citywide, progressive movement against animal cruelty.

Members of both VOICE for Animals and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals advocated for a happy end for elephants outside of opening night of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Alamodome Wednesday and in front of the San Antonio Zoo Friday.

Crowds at the circus were greeted by chants of “boycott the circus” and “Ringling Bros. is on federal charges,” led by PETA member Shari Pearson, who dressed up in a prison outfit to represent the captive conditions circus elephants live in.

The circus is no stranger to legal entanglements over the years and is currently awaiting a verdict on a federal lawsuit filed by a coalition of animal rights activists in 2000, which claimed the circus violated the Endangered Species Act of 1973 for prodding and chaining their elephants.

“I want to direct the public to the Web site www.awionline.org so that they can decide for themselves if it is animal cruelty, to give them the choice whether or not they want to come to the circus,” Pearson said. “The best way to fight animal cruelty is don't buy into it. Don't pay for these cages, chains and bullhooks they call the circus.”

Though only with a small group of people, Pearson attempted to symbolically convey the complaints against the circus by physically chaining herself to some of the other activists.

“They are chained for over 10 hours a day, and it's very cruel to do this to these animals,” she said. “For so long, I used to go to the circus, and I didn't know they did this. A lot of circuses now don't have animals, and they are very successful, so it's not a matter of boycotting the circus; it's a matter of boycotting a circus that has animals.”

Even as droves of families and onlookers passed by the scene, PETA and VOICE member Ann Lowry was not deterred.

“People will walk by and laugh and smile, but I'm going to keep speaking up because the animals can't,” she said.

In this same spirit, VOICE members teamed up with the Hailey Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to saving animals, on Friday to protest the San Antonio Zoo and its 47-year-old reign over the prized elephant Lucky.

Confined to cramped quarters, activists want the San Antonio Zoo to concede in allowing Lucky to retire to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. According to its Web site, the sanctuary provides for specialized care of endangered elephants and is the largest natural-habitat of its kind.

“The kids who go in there are seeing an elephant wrenched out of its natural habitat, sick and prematurely aged,” VOICE member John Hackett said. “It's not even representative of African wildlife. We want the zoo to consider a win-win solution and let Lucky go to the sanctuary.”

VOICE and the Hailey Foundation have also made it a goal to appeal to city council in an effort to slash the zoo's financial assistance.

Handmade signs announced their presence to visitors who may not be aware of the fact that the zoo, a non-profit organization, rents the land it sits on for $1 a year from the city.

Rally spokesman John Bachman said he would like to see the city and Mayor Castro “do the right thing and endorse Lucky.” He urged more transparency from the zoo to its taxpayer base, a base that may encompass the seventh largest city in the nation but does not easily affix to modern thinking, he said.

However, the movement for humane treatment of animals is growing as local demographics change with migration of diverse people into the city, Bachman said. Maybe that's just in time to grant Lucky her own independence day.

“South Texas is a hard target,” Bachman said. “Wild West thoughts of Texas still pervade. It's slow, but first comes education, activism and then change.”

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