UCF alum Hunter Menning, 24, participated in a protest against the Garden Bros. Circus held at the CFE Arena Nov. 12, 2017. (Photo: Cristóbal Reyes)

The UCF chapter of the Body of Animal Rights Campaign and Animal Rights Foundation of Florida protested the the Garden Bros. Circus Sunday afternoon outside the CFE Arena for their use of wild or exotic animals  for entertainment on campus.

Emilia Kosonen led the protest, hoping to send a message to the UCF administration of the student body’s opposition to hosting circuses, with animals, on campus.

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“I’m hoping to get the attention of UCF’s administration to show that there’s an overwhelming retaliation from the students against hosting a circus at the CFE Arena or having any exotic animal acts on our campus,” Kosonen, president of the BARC at UCF, said.

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Kosonen described how she initially got involved last year in advocating for animals rights at UCF.

“I saw it on the BARC Facebook page, so I came and that was my first time getting involved in UCF animal rights stuff and there was a ton of people there,” she said. “I empathize with animals and you know people need to be more aware about what goes on in [circuse].”

Many people walking past the protest had mixed reactions upon learning about the violence that goes on in circuses.

“A lot of people who walk by here and we give them a pamphlet or information about the circus, they’re really shocked, some people are confrontational or ignorant,” Kosonen said. “But other people completely just are bewildered by the violence that goes on in circuses because its just so behind close doors, but you look online and there’s tons of undercover footage of it happening.”

Another protester, Emily Sarasa, who used to attend circuses, spoke of the importance of spreading awareness about the abuse circus animals face.

“I think a lot of people don’t think about what they’re seeing and it seems like a form of entertainment instead of what it really is which is animals being abused,” Sarasa, a senior integrated business major, said. “People don’t associate that so I think its important for us to stand out here and plant the seeds so they can think about it.”

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, cited numerous incidents over the years involving the treatment of animals by Garden Bros. In September 2017, Philip K. Ensley observed Libby and Bunny, Asian elephants, at several Garden Bros. performances and published a report detailing his observations.

He found that they both “demonstrated rote non-species typical behaviors during their performances, suffer physical injuries, inhabit intolerably restricted spaces and are subjected to a travel and work schedule that is inhumane by any standard.”

Kosonen was familiar with Libby and Bunny, and described the abuse they face from their trainers. “Libby and Bunny are the two elephants here, they are suffering from arthritis, foot injuries, you can see bruises all over their bodies, like they’re clearly not taken care of.”

“When it comes to the videos of their trainer abusing them, cursing at them, yelling at them, hitting them with a bull hook on their you know, to get them what he needs them to do, it’s just like really tragic,” Kosonen said.

There have also been instances of Garden Bros. Circus failing to meet permit requirements.

In February 2017, a performance was cancelled in Lowndes County, Georgia when the “county refused to issue the necessary permits after determining the circus’ safety record involving animals and the public was ‘not satisfactory’.”

The protesters feel it is their responsibility to stand up for these animals due to the lack of government enforcement.

“Unfortunately animal welfare laws just are not enforced by the USDA, so its like we’re the ones who have to stand up for them,” Kosonen said.

This protest came just a few days after a resolution introduced by Kosonen, a student government senator, was unanimously passed in the senate. It declares the senate’s opposition to “future collaborations with organizations that display wild or exotic animals for public entertainment or amusement” at UCF.

“The purpose of this resolution is to show that the student body is against the exploitation of circus animals on campus, that’s all that I’m trying to do,” Kosonen said.

According to Sen. Bobby Sells, UCF has the final say in banning these organizations.

“The bill is showing that the SGA Senate opposes it. We can’t actually ban it, but hopefully it will push the administration to do so,” said Sells, who is also president of Habitat for Humanity at UCF.

The bill was passed with 38 votes and one abstention.

Several registered student organizations supported the resolution including BARC, Campus Peace Action, the Philosophical Society at UCF, and Habitat for Humanity.

“I think that’s a great thing. I’m very much against imprisoning wild animals to act as entertainment for humans, so the fact that UCF is standing against this is good,” Chrissy Campbell, a student who supports the resolution, said.

Prior efforts have been made to prohibit circus performances at UCF.

“I asked a lot of questions and it turns out that there have been numerous attempts in the past to reach out to UCF administration to end circus performances at UCF, even a meeting with President Hitt’s office in 2008, and all of them have failed.”, Kosonen said.

The effort was reignited when Kosonen was approached by ARFF.

“Animal Rights Foundation of Florida contacted me initially because I run the Body of Animal Rights Campaign, and they wanted to co-organize a protest.”

Kosonen has worked with several organizations over the last month in her efforts. However, she decided to write the resolution after attempts at contacting the CFE Arena fell through.

“I’ve spent the last month working alongside ARFF, PETA and OneProtest this past month and co-wrote emails to Brian Hixenbaugh, the manager of the CFE Arena,” she said. “After a few weeks of unreturned emails and phone calls I decided to write the resolution.”

Garden Bros. Circus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Even if all animals were treated humanely in circuses, Kosonen said she would still be opposed to them performing in shows. “No matter what, animals in circuses are still confined for 96 percent of their lives, whether it’s in a cage or in chains.”

“That’s not a life, animals deserve better than that,” Kosonen said. “They deserve to be in the wild.”