Upstate venue ends all circus shows with animals

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GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – The last circus shows ever featuring live performing animals ended Tuesday evening at the Greenville Convention Center. 

The two scheduled Garden Bros. Circus performances prompted animal advocacy group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to contact the convention center management weeks ago about a company the group ranks as one of the worst circuses for its treatment of animals. 

Convention Center General Manager John Wilusz told 7News that he honored PETA’s request to make Monday and Tuesday’s shows “animal free,” but Garden Bros. declined to put on a performances without the star attractions. 

Wilusz said the shows would go on with animals but no future bookings of events involving live performing animals would be made. 

“Circuses are seldom held at our facility. We do have limited history of working with Garden Brothers previously without issue, and re-booked their event for this week. Moving forward we are adopting an internal policy that would restrict live animals in such performances due to the operational impact on the facility, said Wilusz. “We are taking a bit of a stronger stance with this but the decision is more operational than taking a social stance.”

The Greenville Convention Center is owned by the City of Greenville and managed by private management firm SMG. 

Melanie Johnson, the representative with PETA who first reached out to Wilusz weeks ago, told 7News on the phone from her offices in Washington, D.C. that Garden Bros. Circus is “notoriously cruel.” 

In a statement, PETA said:

“In thanks for the convention center’s compassionate decision, PETA is sending it a box of elephant-shaped vegan chocolates. The Greenville Convention Center has done the right thing in blocking cruel circuses like Garden Bros. from hauling suffering and dangerous animals into town and forcing them to perform under threat of punishment,” says PETA Foundation Deputy Director Rachel Mathews. “Every city, county, and venue that rejects animal acts helps PETA push circuses toward an animal-free future. Garden Bros. Circus has an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau. The circus is currently using two elephants, named Betty and Bo, supplied by Larry Carden—even though Betty is chronically lame, likely as a result of prolonged chaining and confinement. In a 2017 whistleblower complaint, a former Garden Bros. employee described frequently seeing elephants with blood dripping from behind their ears. The whistleblower also reported that the camel handler beat, punched, and kicked a camel after a performance—and a handler was caught repeatedly whipping a llama on stage. PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, which is a supremacist worldview. Numerous venues and localities across the country—including in California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Vermont, and Virginia—have canceled Garden Bros. shows or barred the circus from performing with animals.”

7News made multiple attempts via phone, email, and social media direct messaging to allow Garden Bros Circus officials to answer PETA’s claims but we never heard back. 

An official with the circus at the convention center refused to take news reporter’s questions. 

At the convention center Tuesday, 7News spoke with grandparents and parents who brought their children to the show.

“I’m a little surprised and saddened,” said Larry Kolb of Greenville. “I’ve certainly never seen anything that indicates they’re unkind or mean to the animals or mistreating them. To take away all the animals deprives the kids of a rare treat. It’s a pleasant surprise for the kids to see the animals up close. It’s as good as most kids get.” 

Gretchen Davis of Simpsonville added, “I think it’s terrible. They’re much better than they used to be.”

Wilusz said the new policy does not impact future dog shows held at the convention center. 

He stressed, “We addressed this with PETA and there was no objection.”

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