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Last run for circus elephants in RVA, but protests will continue

Posted at 12:07 AM, Mar 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-11 10:52:37-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- For the Ringling Brothers' last run in Richmond with elephants, there was an elephant outside named Ellie.

But it wasn't the circus' - it was PETA's. And it's a robot.

"I remember hearing my mom crying when I was taken from her as a baby," the recorded, looped voice called out to circus-goers from the sidewalk across from the Richmond Coliseum's 7th Street entrance. "I was crying, too."

Circus protest

Ellie the robot elephant and Mark Holmberg

Ellie went on share the alleged abuses heaped upon her by circus workers.

It's like an annual ritual: the elephants and animals come to the Coliseum with the circus and the protesters gather outside.

Ellie was a new twist, just as the circus announced the elephants would not return to RVA.

"We've traveled all across the country, taking Ellie to elementary schools," said Alex Blount with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "And the response has been fantastic. Kids are so naturally empathetic towards animals. What better way to help these kids understand that they shouldn't visit the circus where these elephants are beaten night after night to force them to perform."

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Field Entertainment spokesman Stephen Payne said they are very proud of their animal care.

"The health and well-being of our elephants, lions, tigers, and all of the other animals with Ringling Bros. is our top priority," he said.

Blount and Laura Cascada with Richmond Friends of Animals also said the retirement center for the elephants is cruel, with chains and concrete enclosures.

Payne said that's just not true:

"The Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation is uniquely suited for all of the elephants in our herd," he said in a statement to CBS-6. "There they will have acres of pastures, herd mates to socialize with and they will continue to receive the highest level of care. The activists who make claims about the Center for Elephant Conservation have never actually been there nor do they have any actual first hand knowledge of the care we provide."

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So, will the protests end now that the elephants are retiring?

"No, we're actually going to keep being out here until Ringling stops using any animals in shows," Cascada said. "Just because they're retiring the elephants doesn't mean there won't still be tigers, camels and other animals carted around from city to city and abused to perform."

The circus runs through Sunday. You can expect to see protestors, and Ellie, as well.

Check out our video of part of the show, and the protest.