Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pachyderm Protest

On January 6th I read in the Orlando Weekly that animal performers from Ringling Brothers and Barnum Baily Circus would unload at railroad tracks near 1035 W. Amelia Street, at 8:30pm then travel east on Amelia, south on North Hughey, west on West South Street, and enter the Garage behind the Amway Center. The railroad tracks were in an industrial complex in Parramore, so I decided to sketch the destination at the Amway Center. It was an unexpectedly cold night with temperatures dropping down to the 30's. I sat next to an on ramp to I-4 and blocked in the Amway Center. I left the lower third of the sketch vacant, assuming I would put in the animals when they walked by.

A truck load of workers got out of a truck in the lot next to me. They each carried long coils of ropes over their shoulders. Maybe their job was to set up the trapeze inside the arena.  Cold winds forced we to huddle back behind an overpass pillar. A large fire ant mound behind me kept me from backing up any more. I blew into my gloves periodically to warm my hands. My denim jacket was no match for the cold. I could faintly smell hay. In the distance I heard a sound like race cars at the Indie 500. I soon realized the sound wasn't cars, but lions roaring. It was only 7:30pm, so it couldn't be the animals at the railroad stop yet. The railroad stop was probably a mile away. White tents were set up inside the Amway garage and I realized that the lions were inside. Periodically, Swift 18 wheelers would pull up to the garage. The sketch reached a point where I couldn't go any further, so I decided I needed to warm up and pee. A hand blower in the public bathroom blew gloriously hot air onto my frozen hands.

I followed the parade route back to the railroad stop. Behind the huge vacant lot referred to as the "Creative Village" a bunch of RV's were parked along with some Swift trucks. I assume this must have been the traveling circus camp. As I got closer to the railroad tracks I saw flashing police lights and a loud hissing sound. At the tracks the road was lined with protesters with signs that asked people to Boycott the Circus and to Google Ringling Cruelty. I sketched the protesters and police into my already started sketch.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is known for its long history of abusing animals. In 1929, John Ringling ordered the execution of a majestic bull elephant named Black Diamond after the elephant killed a woman who had been in the crowd as he was paraded through a Texas city. Twenty men took aim and pumped some 170 bullets into Black Diamond's body, then chopped off his head and mounted it for display in Houston Museum of Natural Science. Ringling's cruel treatment of animals continues today.

Elephants in Ringling's possession are chained inside filthy, poorly ventilated boxcars for an average of more than 26 straight hours—and often 60 to 70 hours at a time—when the circus travels. Even former Ringling employees have reported that elephants are routinely abused and violently beaten with bullhooks (an elephant-training tool that resembles a fireplace poker), in order to force them to perform tricks. Since 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited Ringling numerous times for serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), such as the following:
  • Improper handling of dangerous animals
  • Failure to provide adequate veterinary care to animals, including an elephant with a large swelling on her leg, a camel with bloody wounds, and a camel injured on train tracks
  • Causing trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, and unnecessary discomfort to two elephants who sustained injuries when they ran amok during a performance
  • Endangering tigers who were nearly baked alive in a boxcar because of poor maintenance of their enclosures
  • Failure to test elephants for tuberculosis
  • Unsanitary feeding practices 
I stood with the 30 or so protesters till 10:30pm waiting to see if the elephants would be walked to the Arena in the freezing cold. The Ringling animal railroad cars were converted passenger cars. I wondered if they were heated. Finally three elephants walked down the ramps exiting the cars. Rather than walk down Amelia, the handlers had the elephants walk away down the rail line towards the front of the train. The route was being changed, so I walked briskly to see what road the elephants were being lead down. Protesters ran past me. Julie Gross shouted out, "Run Thor!" Police blocked cars from entering the next block. A large Swift 18 wheeler truck already had the three elephants inside.  I wondered if the Swift cargo hold was heated. Swift maintains one of the largest temperature controlled fleets in the industry. Any cargo can be kept at a stable temperature from the moment it leaves your door to the moment it is off loaded at the final destination. Perhaps the elephants were warmer than me. I had seen the elephants for at most two minutes.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Keenun said...

Thank you for this. I am proud to have participated and my kids felt the same way. Your art is beautiful. The night was 10 year old ended up in tears because of the elephants crying....I think she was overwhelmed because the horses were right in front of her and they did not want to enter the trailer at he same time, she heard an elephant cry out. We have ner protested anything before...this was incredibly important for us and we stuck it out until almost midnight. Geez it was cold, but we figured if the animals had to do it, we could do it. Thank you for sharing your talents as an artist and a writer....I'm in awe. We will be there tomorrow for opening night and I hope you wil be there as well.

Keenun said...

PS --- If you decide to come and you see my kids and me, please introduce yourself. I'd like to give you a hug....or at least meet you! :)