Megan O'Malley, a musician with the Ringling Brothers defended the circus and how it treated animals in this post. She says protesters are largely misinformed and don't see the full picture.
TL;DR: Animals are expensive, and trained performing animals are even more expensive. Circuses have no reason to abuse their animals and every reason to treat them well. These animals are cared for and loved and bring joy to people who otherwise might never be able to appreciate their natural beauty.
Animal rights activists say there's nothing redeemable about forcing exotic animals to perform in circuses. Advocates say animals may look tame and friendly on stage, but behind the scenes, animals are trained with cruelty. PETA says its investigations found circuses routinely beat animals and use cruel instruments to train their animals.
Video footage shot during a PETA undercover investigation of Carson & Barnes Circus showed Carson & Barnes’ animal-care director, Tim Frisco, as he viciously attacked, yelled and cursed at, and shocked endangered Asian elephants. Frisco instructed other elephant trainers to beat the elephants with a bullhook as hard as they could and to sink the sharp metal bullhook into the animals’ flesh and twist it until they screamed in pain. The videotape also showed a handler who used a blowtorch to remove elephants’ hair as well as chained elephants and caged bears who exhibited stereotypic behaviors caused by mental distress.
On the road, the animals fare even worse. Animals are kept in crates and stalls for extended periods of time with little room to move or even to turn around. These are animals whose natural environments are wide-ranging areas where they're often at the top of the food chain. These animals are being deprived of anything even close to their natural environment just so the circus can make money.
Because circuses are constantly traveling from city to city, animals’ access to basic necessities such as food, water, and veterinary care is often inadequate. The animals, most of whom are quite large and naturally active, are forced to spend most of their lives in the cramped, barren cages and trailers used to transport them, where they have only enough room to stand and turn around. Most animals are allowed out of their cages only during the short periods when they must perform. Elephants are kept in leg shackles that prevent them from taking more than one step in any direction. The minimum requirements of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are routinely ignored.
Activists say the era of the animal circus is over. Huge names in the industry like the Ringling Brothers are closing shop because people don't want to see animals exploited anymore. Instead of exploiting animals, circuses should look to places like Cirque du Soleil where they've created an amazing show without animals.
The logic is simple. People are increasingly sensitive to perceived animal cruelty. Animals are also the most expensive part of a circus operation between transportation, animal care, insurance, training and more. Instead of fighting the current, Cirque du Soleil rejected animals entirely and created something entirely new and wildly successful.
Cirque du Soleil did not compete with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Instead it created uncontested new market space that made the competition irrelevant. It appealed to a whole new group of customers: adults and corporate clients prepared to pay a price several times as great as traditional circuses for an unprecedented entertainment experience.