The circus is coming to Corvallis, but don’t expect to see any elephants, tigers or camels this time around — those kinds of displays are no longer allowed in Benton County.
Under pressure from animal rights activists, the Benton County Board of Commissioners voted last fall to ban a wide range of exotic animal acts in unincorporated areas starting Jan. 1.
That includes the Benton County Fairgrounds, which has played host to performances by the Jordan World Circus for a number of years and will do so again on April 11.
“We’re going to be having horses and we will be having dogs, but not the exotic animals (like) elephants and tigers,” said Esteban Fassio, the booking agent for the Las Vegas-based traveling circus.
“Everything else is coming — the jugglers, the clowns, the aerialists and others,” he added. “The circus will be coming for a normal show but without the great stars of the show, which is the exotic animals.”
One new attraction this time around will be Bee, a transforming car patterned after the vehicle-robot hybrid in “Bumblebee,” the latest offering in the "Transformers" movie franchise.
“It’s been doing well,” Fassio said, “(but) it’s an attraction just for the little ones.”
Many circus fans in the Corvallis area, he said, are unaware of the new county ordinance and are still expecting to see some of the big, exotic beasts that have long been part of the circus tradition. He’s worried they may be disappointed when they learn the tigers and elephants will not be performing here anymore — and that they’ll stop buying tickets.
“I don’t know if we’ll be coming here another year,” Fassio said. “We’ll see how it goes this year.”
Protests have become regular occurrences at the circus’s Corvallis appearances. Many animal rights supporters condemn traveling circuses as innately cruel to animals, which must be transported in cramped cages, are forced to endure long hours of travel and are sometimes subjected to painful training methods.
Benton County Fairgrounds manager Lynne McKee said she expects to see protesters at this year’s circus as well, even though the tigers and elephants will not be making an appearance, “because they’re still part of the Jordan World Circus.”
Brittney West of the Corvallis Veg Education Group, who has organized past protests at the fairgrounds, said no such action is planned for this year.
“However, we remain strongly opposed to Jordan World Circus performing in our county, as their practice of severe animal neglect, mistreatment and abuse continues as these animals are trucked to other Oregon counties and other states, traveling thousands of miles each year,” she wrote in an email to the newspaper.
“It is our hope that our community is moved by the suffering of these intelligent, sentient animals and will choose to support freedom over cruelty by not attending the circus.”
While a growing number of jurisdictions have banned the use of exotic animals in circuses and similar performances, the Jordan World Circus still uses elephants and tigers in most of its shows. When the circus comes to Corvallis, Fassio said, those animals will bypass the city and go to the next stop on the tour, in Medford.
Fassio has acknowledged that circuses have treated animals poorly in the past, but he insists that the industry has learned from its mistakes and has fully embraced more humane practices. Many of the complaints made by activists against the Jordan World Circus, he says, are based on mistaken assumptions or outdated information.
“These animals are not being taken out of the jungle and brought here to work in the circus, they are born here,” he said.
Fassio noted that all his animals must pass regular inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including medical checkups, but he said activists continue to protest anyway.
“Even if you show you are doing things right, they don’t care,” he said. “They keep bringing up things from the past.”