Protesters picket outside Ringling Brothers circus - WSMV Channel 4

Protesters picket outside Ringling Brothers circus

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The "Greatest Show on Earth" has come to town and so have protesters who say the circus animals are abused.

Members of PETA held signs and a large, inflated elephant Thursday outside Bridgestone Arena, ahead of opening night for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Protesters say people going to the Ringling Brothers show need to know what's going on behind the scenes, but circus officials say their training practices are humane.

"Elephants and other animals are kept in shackles in tiny cages and they are beaten in order to force them to perform very confusing and very challenging tricks, all for a few cheap laughs," said Virginia Fort, PETA campaigner.

A spokeswoman rebutted the claim.

"Our crowds are swelling, so that's the voice of encouragement to Ringling Brothers that we are doing what is right. They are healthy and robust," said circus spokeswoman Melinda Hartline.

But the parent company of Ringling Brothers has been in trouble before. Last year, they paid $270,000 to settle animal rights complaints from the USDA.

The company did not admit any wrongdoing and said they were adding new training programs.

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