BY JORDAN GIBBONS
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals employees and volunteers came out to Cambria Heights Tuesday afternoon to ask parents and students not to attend the UniverSoul Circus, which opens at Roy Wilkins Park next week.
Anthrozoologist John Di Leonardo, along with several PETA volunteers and a costumed elephant, stood in front of the Cambria Center for the Gifted Child handing out coloring books, stickers and informational flyers explaining the alleged animal cruelty used in circuses, particularly against elephants and tigers.
“Animals are beaten and tazed since they’re very young,” Di Leonardo said. “It’s all punishment and depravation. There’s no positive reinforcement in the circus.”
PETA has a fact sheet available on its website with over 40 UniverSoul U.S. Department of Agriculture citations, police reports and permit denials tied to animal exhibitors and animal rights conditions dating back to 1997.
UniverSoul does not possess an exhibitor license from the USDA and uses animals leased from outside exhibitors such as Larry Dean Carden, who was allegedly arrested in February after using a bullhook in an elephant’s mouth after it would not leave the stage during a show in Atlanta, according to reports.
A bullhook is a long device that resembles a fireplace poker, which trainers use to train the animals.
According to a circus animal rights policy statement on UniverSoul’s website, “We strongly oppose any form of cruelty or mistreatment of animals, wild or domestic – and will not tolerate any mistreatment on our circus site. 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.”
Larraysha Conklin, a Cambria Heights resident, was picking up her daughter, Alayah, when Di Leonardo spoke to her about the conditions at UniverSoul.
Conklin had recently attended a UniverSoul show in Brooklyn.
“Every time I see the elephants I get scared. It’s not right,” Conklin said. “I don’t think they should be doing that to animals. It’s not normal.”
Di Leonardo decided on stopping by the Cambria Pre-K and kindergarten school because volunteer and Jamaica resident Atiya Lilly-Gassaway, 20, attended the school when she was a child.
Lilly-Gassway has been volunteering for PETA for three years and she said she joined the animal rights organization because of her passion for animals and desire to get into activism.
“Kids need to know what really goes on in the circus,” she said. “When you know what really happens to the animals, you’d look at things differently.”
She added that she used to go to the circus when she was a child, but got a bad feeling at a young age.
“I would cringe when the animals came out,” she said. “You knew something wasn’t right.”
UniverSoul will be at Roy Wilkins Park located at Merrick and Baisley boulevards from April 28 to May 17. Di Leonardo said that he will be there protesting the circus in the parking lot, just as he did with others at the locations in the Bronx and Brooklyn in March and April.
Reach Reporter Jordan Gibbons at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jgibbons2.