Animal welfare activists in Myrtle Beach protest Garden Bros. Circus, which faces abuse accusations

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – A group of protesters gathered outside the Myrtle Beach Convention Center before the final performance by a company that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) calls the “worst circus.”

A small, informal group of at least six protesters were outside Wednesday night’s Garden Bros. Circus performance, handing out coloring books that explain what they call the problems of using animals in circuses.

The protesters held up signs, with one saying, “Don’t support animal torture. Turn around.” The protesters say they’re pushing for a cause they say is bigger than them: an end to animal shows by Garden Bros. Circus.

Some of the protesters stand outside the Myrtle Beach Convention Center as people arrive for Garden Bros. Circus performance Wednesday evening.

In a previous press release sent to News13, the circus highlights its many performances, which include elephants, as well as camels and horses.

“They are beaten, trained, starved and sleep-deprived like prisoners, in order to make them perform these obscene acts to unknowing, unwitting audiences,” said Jerri Gingrich, who was one of the protesters.

City spokesperson Mark Kruea says while Myrtle Beach police officers are aware of complaints against Garden Bros. in other locations, they can only focus on conditions here.

“Our animal control officers go over and check the USDA certificates,” he said. “They checked the veterinary care certificates. They actually inspect the animals both days and they saw no problems at all. Certainly, if they do find a problem, they will report it.”

The four Garden Bros. shows at the convention center are not the only ones to face opposition. PETA has dozens of abuse claims against Garden Bros. and ranked it as the worst circus after Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey closed in 2017.

In March, a venue in the Upstate ended all circus shows with animals after PETA contacted the venue with their concerns. WSPA-TV reported the Greenville Convention Center said “the decision is more operational than taking a social stance.”

In late September, PETA announced that authorities in Kentucky would prevent the circus from bringing elephants into the state. A number of states, including Georgia, Mississippi and Virginia, have canceled Garden Bros. shows or barred the circus from performing with animals.

In 2017, a formal complaint sent to the USDA by a former employee described animal abuse that included striking elephants repeatedly with bullhooks, whipping the camels’ feet bloody and failing to provide veterinary care.

Stellar Entertainment Group, the Sarasota, Florida, company that owns Garden Bros., was contacted Wednesday afternoon for this story. After an hour, an employee returned a voicemail left in the marketing department and said another person would call for a phone interview “in a few minutes.” That other person, however, did not get in touch Wednesday and still has not contacted News13 as of Thursday night.

The City of Myrtle Beach, which owns the convention center, says there are no plans to stop renting space for live animal performances.

“I don’t know that we would rule them out without having some valid reason to rule them out,” Kruea said.

The protesters outside the convention center Wednesday say the abuse and training of circus animals is enough.

“Animals in circuses have already been banned in over 45 countries and several states in the United States,” Gingrich said. “Why is Myrtle Beach still in the dark ages?”

Garden Bros. has two performances at the Florence Center on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

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