NATIONAL HARBOR – A group representing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization, also known as PETA, protested outside of the UniverSoul Circus show at the National Harbor on June 20, demanding that the entertainment organization stop using animal for its shows.
Seventeen protesters stood on the sidewalks and entrances to the parking lot heading towards the tent for the circus, holding signs while protesting in silence, demanding that the show stop using animals. According to Senior Campaign Coordinator Melanie Johnson, the circus has a long history of abusing animals in their shows.
“Children would run kicking and screaming from circus tents if they saw how animals used by the circus are beaten and denied everything that is natural to them,” Johnson said. “
Fliers were handed out showing UniverSoul performances with animals in cages and claiming that they have escaped multiple times. This is not first time PETA or other organizations have protested the circus with OneProtest setting up a change.org petition also demanded the end of the animal shows with the circus. As of June 25, the petition has 101,595 supporters.
On their website, PETA provides a fact sheet showing incidents of misconduct between Universoul and their animals dating from 1997 to 2017. Multiple times, animals are reported to have injuries, being confided in cages and lacking water. According to PETA, UniverSoul Circus does not possess an exhibitor license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and must rely on exhibitors in order to have animals for their performances.
“Today’s public respects wildlife and has no interest in seeing miserable, abused animals performing stupid tricks,” PETA Foundation Deputy Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews said. “PETA’s protesters are pushing UniverSoul to embrace an animal-free future before it follows Ringling Bros. (Circus) out of business.”
The show, which will be at the National Harbor from June 20-July 28, promotes its performances that come from different parts of the global. This includes male contortionists from Guinea, skaters from Cuba and a high-wire act from Colombia and Gabon. As a way of getting in touch with the local community, County Councilmember Monique Anderson-Walker was advertised to be the guest ringmaster on June 25.
“We get to share our culture with everyone, and each member of the audience leaves with a message that everyone belongs,” said founder and CEO Cedric Walker said in a press release announcing the National Harbor show. “The UniverSoul Circus is for the people — it’s their show.”
Residents attending the show read the signs and reacted but still continued their way towards the tent. Khai Morgan, 38, was attending it with his 12-year-old son and saw the signs. While he agreed the overall message, Morgan said animals provide a “different type of thunder” to entertainment shows like the circus.
“I’ve been to the circus since I was a little kid so I understand that the issues with animals and I sympathize with them,” Morgan said. “I love animals myself but I don’t see it like they do and I am neutral about it.”
Others asked if the organization had proof that the circus committed these actions recently or were indifferent about the issues that PETA members brought up.
Towson resident and former magician Eric Redman, 40, argued that PETA is misinformed with their rhetoric and does not understand that the performers and animals form a friendship through their performances.
Redman, who has friends that perform with UniverSoul, said he would recommend the organization to go behind the scenes and see how performers treat their animals first before protesting their shows.
“Knowing what I know about this circus, I do know they care about their animals,” Redman said. “They do not treat them bad or anything like that… The mindset though that they are automatically hurting an animal because they are performers is mistaken.”
Moving forward, according to Johnson, PETA plans to attend continue protesting UniverSoul shows throughout the country, including in Virginia and North Carolina.
“There is no kind way to force animals like zebras and other animals at UniverSoul to perform these cruel and demeaning tricks,” Johnson said. “So we are urgening people to stay away from circus like UniverSoul that uses animals.”
Anderson-Walker was not available for comment on her involvement or her opinion on the subject at this time. UniverSoul Circus officials did not response for a request for comment.