A small group protested the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' performance in Lexington on Saturday morning, claiming that the traveling show mistreats its animals.
Ten protestors, including three children, stood on the sidewalk across High Street from Rupp Arena where the circus was appearing, verbally urging passersby not to attend the event and waving handmade signs.
"Stop The Circus, Stop The Abuse," one placard said. "End Circus Slavery," another urged.
A few passing cars honked in support. One or two people entering Rupp Arena shouted back at the protesters. Most circusgoers seemed to ignore them.
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The circus has drawn protests by animal-rights groups before in Lexington, but Saturday was the first demonstration by a newly formed organization calling itself the Lexington Circus Protest Group.
"It's all about the animals," said Angela Dragoo, who organized Saturday's demonstration. "I feel like they are slaves; they don't have a voice or a way out. The animals are terribly mistreated, and that's putting it mildly."
Attorney Jason Cubert, another leader, said group members might pursue an effort to have Lexington ban displays of wild animals, as a few other cities have done.
But Ashley Vargas, a Ringling Bros. animal care specialist who works with horses and elephants, insisted in an interview that the circus is "the world leader" in caring and preserving endangered species, particularly the Asian elephant. She noted that Ringling operates its own 200-acre conservation center in Florida, where two-thirds of its elephants live, including animals that have retired from the show.
"Contrary to groups like PETA, we strive every day to ensure the survival of this magnificent species for future generations," she said. "Here in Lexington we have our animal open house, so people can see the animals up close, and see for themselves the care they receive."