UniverSoul Circus, one of the largest touring circus companies in the country, began a 23-show run in Miramar Regional Park yesterday. UniverSoul's act includes classic circus mainstays, like acrobats, motorcyclists who ride around in that crazy spherical ball-thing, and — much to the dismay of animal lovers around the world, elephants and zebras.
Emily Reyneri, 16, of Pembroke Pines, says she is mortified that UniverSoul insists on using live animals in its act.
"Animals have a right to be free from human abuse," she told New Times. "They deserve to be free, and that's basically it."
So, Reyneri said, she's helping organize a series of protests outside the circus, at 16801 Miramar Parkway, this weekend. She and her team — comprised of members from the animal rights group CompassionWorks International — will organize from 6 to 7 p.m. on Friday, and then in three separate sessions on Saturday: 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., 4 to 5 p.m., and then from 6:30 to 7:30 at night.
Scores of animal rights groups have long contended that UniverSoul mistreats its animals. A PETA "fact sheet" on the organization lists 16 instances in which the United States Department of Agriculture has cited UniverSoul for "failure to maintain transport vehicles
properly," "failure to provide adequate veterinary care, adequate space," and other violations.
The circus, according to PETA, operates without a USDA "exhibitor license." That license would subject UniverSoul to "regular, unannounced" inspections, as well as civil penalties for potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Critics say that the circus licenses its animals from a number of "outside exhibitors," many of whom PETA has also accused of being cruel to animals.
According to Atlanta's NPR affiliate, 90.1 WABE, Fulton County, Georgia's Animal Control unit said the circus had been using bullhooks — which look like "sharpened fireplace pokers" — to subdue and control its elephants in February of 2015. As the animal news website the Dodo later reported, UniverSoul employees can be seen using bullhooks in videos posted to YouTube.
After Fulton County accused UniverSoul of using bullhooks, the circus released this statement:
In over 19 years and more than 10,000 performances, none of our animal vendors have ever been cited for animal abuse while performing at the UniverSoul Circus. UniverSoul Circus understands and supports all efforts to monitor and regulate the treatment of animals. We work closely with local, state and federal agencies to ensure that our commitment to a high standard of animal care is upheld. Any and all animal acts that perform with the circus must be in compliance with federal, state and local authorities.
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While Reynari is protesting this circus, other activists have been criticizing Ringling, which made headlines last year after announcing it would stop using elephants in its shows. Its elephants will go to a Central Florida sanctuary — but critics like PETA say that there, too, animals may be mistreated and treated as a tourist attraction.
When asked what she would say to UniverSoul, Reyneri simply said, "Liberate the animals." Send them to a sanctuary to retire, she said. "Or, there are a lot of very well accredited zoos in the area, that take great care of the animals."
At the moment, she added, 15 people have confirmed that they will attend her protest. She encourages more to attend.
"The whole point in demonstrating is to raise awareness," she said. "Many people don’t know what’s going on. If we can get a handful of people at least to just not buy the tickets and rethink their decision, it will be a success."