REDMOND, Ore. - You might know it as the "Greatest Show on Earth," and as its manager puts it, the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus is as American as baseball -- and just as old.
"(We are) 143 years (old)," General Manager Rob Lange said Tuesday as the circus set up at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds. "We bring people from all over the world to perform with us."
It could also be one of the busiest circuses -- Lange said they perform all but two weeks a year.
And so do the circus animals. But that's where the controversy comes in.
"It's completely unnatural for them to be confined, and they can be confined in between cities for 20 to 30 hours at a time," said Bend resident and circus protester Reese Mercer.
There's nothing new about people protesting circuses, but this is the first time the Ringling Bros. circus is coming to Central Oregon -- and Mercer hopes it's the last.
"We have about 3,000 signatures right now, asking the county fairgrounds board not to bring the circus back," Mercer said.
Mercer said a couple dozen protesters in Central Oregon are already showing their support, hanging signs and passing out fliers.
Once the performance starts, protesters will be there too, asking people to boycott the show.
"If you really love animals, you won't go to the circus," Mercer said. "Just buying a ticket prolongs their suffering."
Protesters cite rough travel conditions, cruel treatment in training, and a life of misery -- especially for the elephants.
Although circus officials denied NewsChannel 21's requests to film or see the elephants, they did tell us they believe the protests are unwarranted and unfair.
"Our animals are treated better here than anywhere else," Lange said. "Our elephants live longer than they do in the wild."
Lange said the show visiting Redmond has three elephants, three camels and several horses, ponies and dogs -- all animals who love to work.
"Before the show, the music starts, they get that glint in their eye and they are just ready to come out and perform," he said.
The issue is the topic of our new KTVZ.COM Poll: Are you concerned about how circuses treat animal performers? Weigh in on the poll, halfway down the right side of our home page.
The show starts Thursday, with performances each day through Sunday.
For show times, visit: http://www.ringling.com/TourSchedule.aspx
Protesters will meet in front of the fairgrounds before the shows each day.
You can learn more at www.boycottcircuscruelty.org