Last evening I attended the Zor Shrine Circus in Madison, Wisconsin. It was the first performance of the 2013 Madison circus weekend. Elephants, ponies, camels, dogs, and tigers are scheduled to appear and perform for a total of six 3-hour shows over the weekend.
These forced “performers” are trucked from city to city, and some of them are forced to spend their days/weeks/months/lives confined in small enclosures while not performing. The elephants usually remain shackled in place.
I attended the event with two friends, who are also Alliance for Animals (AFA) Board members. We purchased our tickets online, paid for reserved seating, plus a service fee, and also paid for parking. We shelled out $75 to be there. Our tickets were not paid by AFA – and no one was compensated for attending the circus.
Our intent for attending was to observe and document the treatment of the elephants and other animals at the Zor Shrine Circus. We were simply being witnesses. After three years of attending the Zor Shrine Circus and observing and documenting the elephants’ health and treatment, we are familiar with several of them and have concerns about their welfare.
While taking pictures during the intermission I noticed Mark Severson, Assistant Circus Chairman standing very close to me. I turned to see a camera in my face. I reacted by snapping a picture of him as he was taking my picture and asked, “Why are you taking my picture?”
“I’m taking pictures of everyone,” he said.
I walked away from Severson and watched other Zor Shriner’s encircle my friends, bumping into one repeatedly and apparently trying to make us all feel uncomfortable. Much of this is on video.
If this is how Zor Shriners act when they’re sober, I’d hate to see them drunk. Childish, laughing, and basically annoying, they followed us around for awhile.
When one of us was photographing the elephants, Andy Klausman, another Zor Shriner, told her to aim her camera higher, that she was not allowed to take pictures of the elephants’ feet.
Al Matano, Dane County Board Supervisor and sponsor of the elephant ban ordinance, who was also in attendance inquired about this prohibition with Alliant Energy Center director Mark Clarke. “Why can’t we take photos of the elephants’ feet?” he asked.
Director Clarke said, “You can take photos of any part of the elephant you want as long as you are in the photography area.” We informed him that we were told not to do that and pointed out Klausman, who made the demand.
Clarke then approached Klausman who apologized.
It is no secret that we disapprove of the elephants at the circus. Our goal is to document any negligence or abuse and to report this abuse and any violation of the Animal Welfare Act to the USDA in the hope that the county can enforce its ban on the exhibition of elephants sooner rather than later.
In 2012 the Dane County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance amendment banning the exhibition of elephants for amusement or entertainment by a vote of 23 to 9. This means that no new elephant acts shall be allowed at the county’s auditorium. Unfortunately, the current contract with the Zor Shriners will be honored until it runs out in 2020. The County’s attorney expressed the opinion that the Zors might be able to win a lawsuit against the County if the County banned the elephants immediately. This worried enough of the County Supervisors that they allowed the Zor’s temporary exemption.
Our presence at the Zor Shrine Circus was not intended to disrupt the event or even to protest. Our presence did not hinder the performance, nor did we harass any audience members or staff. We were harassed by the Shriners as they attempted to intimidate us.
Shame on the Zor Shriners. They know that the George Carden Circus has been cited by the USDA for its improper care of these elephants; and they know that the elephants are abused throughout their training and are intimidated throughout their life, yet they elected to try and make it harder to document any evidence of mistreatment or ill health. This puts them clearly and squarely on the side of the perpetrators of cruelty. They should be ashamed.
Lynn Pauly, Co Director, Alliance for Animals, Madison WI