By Scott Fitzgerald
CARBONDALE -- Anna Durrett with Carbondale Animal Rights Action Team was blunt about the group's purpose in protesting the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus Friday at SIU Arena.
"We want to bring awareness to their practice of animal cruelty and decrease their ticket sales. We don't want Ringling back here," Durrett said outside .
Ringling Vice President of Communications Steve Payne said protest groups like Carbondale Animal Rights Action Team "have a romanticized version of the wild that doesn't exist anymore" with claims that wild animals should remain in their natural habitats.
He said Ringling has conservation programs for Asian elephants around the world. Groups like Carbondale Animal Rightrs Action Team "piggyback on our publicity. We use it (protests) for education," Payne said.
Ringling Production Manager Megan Jupin said animals that are part of the show get the highest level of care from a veterinarian technician and animal specialists assigned to each of three Ringling circuses that perform 46 weeks out of the year.
A Ringling veterinarian technician, animal trainer and presenter met with SIU Animal Sciences students on Thursday to show how the crew provides for the animals, she said.
During the protest that drew as many as 12 people, Marcus and Jessica Booth of Carbondale had their children Ayla, 6, and Gabriel, 8, accompany them.
Jessica Booth said she experienced an epiphany attending a previous Ringling show in the region.
"I came away really disgusted. Elephants don't belong in a parking lot. You want to see elephants in the refuge, not pulled on chains," she said.
Marcus Booth said the circus is exploiting children and their parents in addition to exploiting animals.
"None of the stuff they are selling is educational. They want you to buy this and buy that for stuff that is exorbitantly priced," he said about circus concession sales.