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Tuesday, July 3, 2007 01:41 pm

Circus act

PETA calls on city to ban animal-training devices

The elephant helps raise a circus tent on Tuesday.
Untitled Document Dozens of workers hustled this week to give shape to the city-block-long Carson & Barnes Circus big top, staking ropes, raising poles and installing cables — but even at this point in the proceedings the elephant was the star of the show.
Carson & Barnes booking agent Gene Hembree says that these big mammals are gently trained to help and perform using a reward system and form loving bonds with their handlers.
But the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says there is more to Carson & Barnes than meets the eye. In a letter to Mayor Tim Davlin, the group condemns the circus’ alleged use of bullhooks and electric prods in elephant training and requests that the City Council ban the tools in Springfield.
“We feel that citizens and elected officials would be appalled to learn that these are not illegal and that they would want to protect these animals by implementing laws to ban bullhooks and electric prods,” says Lisa Wathne, a specialist in captive exotic animals. PETA obtained video footage from a 1999 undercover investigation into the Carson & Barnes Circus that it says shows the pain inflicted through the use of the tools and captures direct orders to keep the practices hidden from the public. The letter and video were sent to the city earlier this week, but, according to communications director Ernie Slottag, the mayor has not reviewed their contents. He also says that the mayor was previously unaware of the potential animal-rights issue. The organization hopes that Davlin will agree to meet with its members to discuss a potential ban and to move the matter along to the City Council. Despite PETA’s allegations, Hembree denies that there is a problem and says that the circus’ elephants are not subjected to abuse. “You see dogs that are tied and beaten and how they act with their owners,” Hembree says, “and then you watch our elephants and how they act with their handlers. There isn’t a problem; there is a mutual respect.”
Hembree says that the elephants’ bathing time is an especially good example of the bond between beast and handler. “When they’re spraying the elephants down, it’s almost like there is a smile on their face,” he says.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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