Oh, look. The circus is coming. Were you planning on going to that circus? You may have to cross a protest line to do so.

Now in its its 30th year of nomadic spectacle creation, the Culpepper and Merriweather Circus will again make the trek to Humboldt in an attempt to entice local eyeball owners into forking over a few dollars to enter its big tent. This coming weekend, the circus will drive stakes to soil in Benbow (Thursday and Friday), Eureka (Saturday) and Rio Dell (Sunday).

What kind of show is this? Culpepper and Merriweather produce what you’d probably consider to be the traditional circus fare. Click over to their website where, under the “Program” tab, you’ll find current tour images of face-painted clowns, girls on unicycles, tightrope walkers and acrobats that bend in ways you can’t.

Oh, but there are also animals — lions and tigers, dogs and ponies — and they are at issue. 

Boycott Circus Cruelty in Humboldt members prepare for this weekend’s protest | Facebook

Members of a Facebook group called Boycott Circus Cruelty in Humboldt have planned protests of the circus — specifically the dates in Eureka and Rio Dell — due, in part, to the numerous USDA violations incurred by Culpepper and Merriweather over the years related to the mistreatment of its animal stars.

If you’d like to take a gander at some of the grievances against Culpepper and Merriweather, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals provides a lengthy fact sheet here. One of the more egregious stains on the circus’ record occurred back in 2008 when a female tiger, Delia, became pregnant by her male sibling (they’re not supposed to be allowed to do that). According to PETA, court documents state that the circus was unaware Delia was with cubs until about 10 days before she gave birth. The mother later rejected the three cubs so the circus decided to raise them by hand. Two of the cubs died and the third was eventually confiscated after its living conditions were deemed inadequate. As a result of this and other charges, the circus had its USDA license suspended for six months in 2012.

Francis giving his trainer a little bit of attitude during the show.

Posted by Culpepper & Merriweather Circus on Thursday, March 27, 2014

The circus, of course, says it has changed, baby. C&M circus clown Leo Acton spoke to The Paxton Record last year emphasizing the circus’ transparency. Come see their animal cages, if you like: 

“At Culpepper & Merriweather, our animals are a priority; they come first,” Acton said. “We’re so proud of the way we take care of them that we invite the public to come out every morning (we have a show) when we put our tent up and do an open tour of our animal compounds so people can see how we take care of them. If you’d like to know how well we take care of them, just come on down and see the show for yourself and see with your own eyes and see how happy and lovely our animals are here at Culpepper & Merriweather.”

But just because C&M may be compliant these days, doesn’t mean that animals should be forced to perform. In addition to the USDA violations, Boycott Circus Cruelty in Humboldt founder Tamara McFarland called into question animal performances altogether in an op-ed for the Times-Standard last week:

In order to elicit the highly unnatural behaviors desired for circus performances, animal trainers employ a variety of frightening and painful tools and methods, including bullhooks, clubs, whips, and electric prods. Circus animals routinely travel for thousands of miles in uncomfortably cramped cages, sometimes chained, often enduring long days standing in their own waste, in vehicles lacking temperature control. 

There’s plenty more commentary on the circus culture over at the Boycott Circus Cruelty in Humboldt Facebook page. Earlier this year the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s voted to ban performances by wild or exotic animals for public entertainment. After getting their protest on, group members mention a desire to lobby for a similar ban here in Humboldt. Stay tuned.

Here’s how the world works: In the mood to pick a side via Facebook “like”? More details about this weekend’s Culpepper and Merriweather’s performances here. More info on Boycott Circus Cruelty in Humboldt’s coming protests here.