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It might be the "Greatest Show on Earth," but animal rights activists say it's also the cruelest.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) volunteers held a demonstration in downtown Phoenix Wednesday near to the US Airways center where Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will open their "Built to Amaze" show.

"We feel awful about it, we don't want them in the Valley. If children knew the suffering of these animals, they would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the big top," said Jessica Burke, PETA volunteer. "We have shocking photos of baby elephants being tied down with rope and wrestled by several adult men into physically difficult and confusing positions. We also have video footage of Ringling trainers striking elephants in the face with bullhooks until they scream."

According to PETA, in late 2011, Ringling Bros. paid the largest fine in circus history, $270,000, for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

The spokesman of the circus released a statement claiming those accusations are false and that animal rights activists continue to "distort" their commitment to animal care.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is very proud of its human and animal partnerships and the physical and behavioral needs of all our animals are a top priority that can be seen in every city we visit. All of our animals are trained using a system of repetition and reward, and the health and vitality of our animals is something we showcase at each and every Ringling Bros. performance.

Contrary to the opinions of animal rights groups, Ringling Bros. has never been found in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act and is regularly inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), state and local animal welfare authorities, including those in Phoenix. Those same animal activists will no doubt continue to distort the care and commitment we have for all of our animal performers. Rather than take what they say at face value, we invite Phoenix area families to come see for themselves how our animals are truly thriving at The Greatest Show on Earth. To learn more about Ringling Bros. animal care programs and our efforts to preserve the endangered Asian elephant, please visit www.elephantcenter.com.

Sandra Haros , Reporter

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