Animal rights groups protest as Shrine Circus rolls into town

The famous traveling Shrine Circus is set to put on shows this weekend in Ottawa.

With acts like the human cannonball, the Tarzan Zerbini Elephants and Liberty Horses along with acrobatics, clowns and jugglers, organizers are promising a little something for everyone.

But as the circus prepares for a weekend of entertaining thousands of people, animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are crying foul.

PETA is condemning the way animals are treated at circuses. Spokesperson Emily Lavender told CFRA elephants can be dangerous to the public. She pointed out six alleged attacks over the years associated with Zerbini elephants. The group has no planned rallies this weekend.

Ringleader Richard Curtis, however, says the animals they travel with are treated well.

"We don't ask the animals to do anything outside of their ordinary movement, if you will," he added. "If they're standing up or stretching, it's all something they would mimic in the wild, as if they were reaching for foliage up in a tall tree, or fruits or whatever the case might be."

He said they make stops at farms as they travel to give the animals some time off and to let them roam.

"There's a lot of enrichment, and we do nothing more than care for them," he said. "If they're not drinking from a lake, we're making sure they're having water or bringing them provision. I think this is what sets us apart, which is probably one of the reasons we've been able to traverse Canada for so long."

The Shrine Circus is not traveling with tigers this year. Curtis said they were held up at the border.

"Some sort of animal rights organization got involved and kind of held up things for us to be able to traverse," he said. "It wasn't a health-related issue. It wasn't a we didn't do our permits, we didn't pay our fees. All the due diligence was done on our end. I'm not exactly sure where it went awry, but for some reason they weren't able to pass into Canada."

Curtis said the tigers were left in the United States with their handlers.

"It stinks, and there's no better way to say it, just because I knew Judit and Jurgen Nerger well and they really kind of set the standard for exotic cat acts," he added.

The circus also features a number of acts that do not include animals. Curtis said the performers have been honing their skills for years.

"They start out young," he said. "Most of them grow up learning to be dare devils, wire walkers, trapeze artists, just like Mom and Dad did, generationally passed on."

This year's show lasts two-and-a-half hours and will run seven times over the weekend. It takes place under a big top set up in the RA Centre parking lot.

Click here for more information on the circus.

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