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'One of the Last' Three-Ring Circuses Coming to Evansville's Ford Center for Eight Shows

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Shrine Circus
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WNIN
The 2022 circus will feature several animals, such as elephants, camels and dogs. A grassroots group plans to protest the use of animals in the circus.

Hadi Shrine Circus at the Ford Center this week, featuring daredevil acts and elephants; anti-animal cruelty protests planned

Host intro for audio:

The Shrine Circus is in Evansville this week. Because the circus uses animals in these shows … as WNIN’s Tim Jagielo tells us … there will also be anti-animal cruelty protests.

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Shrine Circus
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WNIN
The 2022 show will feature rescue dogs.

The Shrine Circus is coming to the Ford Center in Evansville this week. The three-ring circus will be here Thanksgiving Thursday through Sunday. This is the 88th year of this fundraiser for the Hadi Shriners of Evansville.

“We are first and foremost a men's fraternity,” said spokesperson Dale Thomas. “And the circus helps us maintain ourselves as a viable entity and within that community.”

“We are one of the last three ring circuses in the United States,” he said. “There were very few left. We take a lot of pride in that.”

He said the circus also helps them fund philanthropic activities. Thomas says the circus will feature a talented slate of performers including a local cheer team, motorcycle show, high-wire acts and daredevil performer Annaliese Nock.

“She's competed on ‘AGT’ in the United States, ‘America's Got Talent’ in Europe. She just did it in Italy,” Thomas said. “She spent the summer in Saudi Arabia performing in Cirque Du Soleil. … She holds a couple of Guinness World Records (for) the things that she's done.”

There are also animals — such as elephants, camels and even rescue dogs.

For this reason there will also be a citizen protest outside the Ford Center planned for an hour before each performance.

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Tim Jagielo
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WNIN
Activist Sandy Jey address the Evansville City Council on October 10, urging them to disallow the use of animals at the Hadi Shrine Circus.

The protests are organized by activist Sandy Jey, who objects to animals being used in performances.

“… so we want organizations to go for more humane fundraising methods, and just hire human performers — consenting human performers,” Jey said. “Because … we are not against the circus, we are just against the use of animals, especially wild animals in circuses.”

The plan is, an hour before every performance, a group of concerned citizens will peacefully protest outside the Ford Center with informational signs.

Thomas says there is no cruelty and that the circus complies with all local laws. He says the Shriners hand-pick the acts and performers. In this case, he said their elephants come from a sanctuary in Norman, Oklahoma.

“We have been cleared by local authorities,” Thomas said. “We get inspected every year by local authorities. And we meet those every year and exceed their expectations.”

Thomas says they had staff from Mesker Park zoo visit last year and ‘sign off’ on animal conditions.

Jey urges people to just donate to the Shriners directly on their website, instead of going to the circus. She said she hopes Evansville goes circus-animal-free in the future, through local ordinances if necessary.

“What we're against is the use of animals as props, and as entertainment,” she said. “In circuses, and traveling shows, especially these shows, these environments are not supporting the needs of wild animals.”

The elephants are currently in heated tents beside the Ford Center in Downtown Evansville, according to Thomas.

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Tim Jagielo
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WNIN
Multiple circus RVs are parked beside the Ford Center the day before the first show. This Shriners truck is off MLK Boulevard. Behind it is a large white tent, possibly housing circus animals.