By Noelle Walker
OAKLAND, Calif. —
It's called the "Greatest Show on Earth" and it opened its Bay Area run in Oakland at the Oracle Arena Thursday night.
"It's one big family and everybody here is the best of the best, so that's what makes it the greatest show on earth." said elephant trainer, Joey Frisco.
Frisco was aware of of protests that follow the circus wherever they go.
"I think we get the hardest end of protests because we're Ringling Bros," Frisco said shrugging his shoulders. Outside, protesters wearing boards with photos of elephants they say are being abused by the circus tried to persuade ticket holders not to attend.
"This is how they take the baby elephants and tie them up and beat them to do the tricks you're going to see," Deniz Bolbol told families as they entered the arena.
Bolbol has been protesting the Ringling Bros. for 13 years now.
"Just the way these animals are carted around from city to city all year round, living in parking lots, living in in tiny pens and cages for their entire lives," she said. "They falsely portray it as a paradise when, in fact, it's a hell hole for these elephants."
Protesters played a video outside the circus that was recorded undercover by PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
It shows elephants being prodded and pushed backstage. Protesters say one of the trainers in the video is Joey Frisco.
Frisco told KTVU his elephants are like family.
"They have to be a part of your family when you work with the animals because you spend so much time with them," Frisco explained. "You can't really treat it as a job. It's more of a lifestyle and adventure."
Frisco is a third generation elephant trainer, who was born into the circus.
"I didn't have a pet dog or something," he said. "I actually had a 9,000 pound elephant! Her name was Jenny. It's my favorite elephant in the world."
The circus isn't the only venue that's been targeted by animal rights protesters.
There are many zoos that have done away with their elephant exhibits, including the San Francisco Zoo, saying the big animals should have room to roam rather than be kept in a confined space.
The Oakland Zoo still has an elephant exhibit.