Binghamton University students, faculty and community members protest Hanneford circus

Students, faculty and animal rights advocacy group 'Binghamton Can Do Better' gathered outside Memorial Arena to raise awareness of animal abuse at performing circus

Members of the animal rights organization Binghamton Can Do Better (BCDB) along with Binghamton University students lined the sidewalk outside the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena to protest the arrival of the Royal Hanneford Circus.

The Royal Hanneford Circus performed at the Memorial Arena from May 2-4. BCDB, an organization focused on “improving the conditions of nonhumans and humans alike in the Greater Binghamton area in order to promote social justice,” put together the protest.

“You could go in tonight and watch the show and see whips being used. How can you justify whipping an animal to make it do tricks that are unnatural and not something they’re accustomed to doing? It’s not something that is natural for the animals,” said Amber George, co-founder of BCDB. “There’s lots of instances where you can go and see these things happening. You see the tigers wince.”

Allegations of Hanneford’s usage of whips, neglectful veterinary care and below-standard living conditions were what drew both students and BCDB, led by founder Joe Leeson-Schatz.

“A lot of it has to do with the animal training,” said Leeson-Schatz, director of BU’s speech and debate team and an English professor. “Beating with bullhooks, tying them down, taking the baby elephants away from their mothers … to get them to do these things is a long train of systemic abuse. If you search the circus, there is a long train of FDA files of abuse. They’ve killed patrons because their animals are not contained properly.”

Both Leeson-Schatz and George said the circus could be made to accommodate certain animal rights standards.

“Cirque du Soleil is animal-free, and people pay tons of money to see it,” Leeson-Schatz said. “If you remove the animals from the circus, it will be the same event but without the exploitation involved. A lot of times children don’t like seeing animals tortured, but they want to see the animals. We want to readjust what family entertainment means, and redirect people to other animals besides the circus. ”

Marty, a clown for the Royal Hanneford Circus who wished to withhold his last name, said that besides the animals being taken out of their natural habitat, no circumstances of abuse occur.

“Yes, all of the animals are not dealt with in captivity the way they would be in the wild. So to some extent, there is some subjugation of their instincts,” Marty said. “But they’re not mistreated. The animals are well-kept and well-cared-for. They’re appreciated and they’re loved. But yes, they’re not in their natural environment. There is no abuse and there’s no mistreatment. That’s the way it is.”

According to Carlos Konowalskyj, a senior majoring in environmental studies, the Royal Hanneford Circus is known for its maltreatment of animals.

“We want to raise awareness about what goes on in circuses, particularly this circus. We want to get people to realize that other animals are just like humans, they’re just like us in many ways. They don’t want to be in captivity and they certainly don’t want to suffer and be in pain,” Konowalskyj said. “I think a lot of people should take some time to consider that, and not support businesses like this that exploit animals. No human would be treated this way, so why do we do it to animals? We’re trying to stop ageism, racism, why not speciesism?”