The Stardust Circus plans stops at six cities in Arkansas this week and next, with four of the stops using National Guard armories, in Fordyce, Benton, Harrisburg and Forrest City.

That brought a letter of objection to the Guard from Ruth Scroggin of Jonesboro, long active in humane efforts and particularly advocating for better treatment of elephants.

AND THIS UPDATE TO THE ORIGINAL POST: The National Guard has canceled the shows, except for one tonight in Forrest City too far along to stop. A spokesman said local employees made the arrangement unaware of a policy against using armories for such purposes.

Her letter to the National Guard, which she also sent me, includes a reference to a breakdown of a trailer hauling circus elephants this week in Oklahoma. It’s an illustration of circumstances the animals endure in captivity, she said. I’ve asked the National Guard for a response to her objections to use of armories for circuses and also left phone and e-mail messages with the Oklahoma company Carson and Barnes, that leases its elephants to the circus.


Scroggin’s opinions about this particular exhibitor are her own. But I confess my own love of the big animals and belief they should not be exploited for entertainment, a decision the Ringling Brothers circus made this year in putting its elephants out to pasture 

 Scroggin wrote:


I would like to strongly encourage the Arkansas National Guard to forbid the use of Arkansas National Guard armories by any exhibitors that use wild animals… now or in the future. There are serious public safety and animal welfare concerns that must take priority

She said she’d attended a Carson and Barnes performance of the Stardust Circus within the past week, and said she observed one handler with two Asian elephants, where each elephant should have had a handler. She also said one elephant appeared to be lame.  When not performing, they were confined to a small area.

She also noted that a vehicle carrying four Carson and Barnes elephant suffered a broken transport trailer Wednesday on an Oklahoma highway, a highway hazard until the elephants could be loaded to a substitute trailer. She cited, too, the record of Carson and Barnes fines for improper handling, including some escapes.

The state shouldn’t support such an operator, Scroggin wrote, nor should it rent to any elephant exhibitor. 

Elephants used in circuses spend their lives in chains and in the tight confinement of trucks and pens, constantly transported around the country. Elephants are wild animals, and handlers control them through dominance using bull hooks – a steel-tipped weapon similar to a fireplace poker that is used to strike, stab, prod and intimidate elephants into obedience.

In an effort to safeguard the citizens of Arkansas and the animals, I urge you to discuss this matter with Arkansas National Guard officials and not only cancel the upcoming Stardust performances, but also reject any future circus contracts at your facilities.

Later in the afternoon, I heard from Maj. Willl Phillips, spokesman for the Guard. “It’s not our policy to conduct circuses in armories. The events have been canceled. We want to be good community partners. Circuses and armories don’t mix.”


He said normally armory use is decided at a higher level, but in all these cases, one of the local full-time employees made the decision unaware of the state policy. Phillips said he’d called Scroggin and thanked her for bringing the issue to the attention of the Guard.

Earlier, I talked by phone with Lee Ketcham of Sarasota, Fla., who contracts to handle ticket sales for the Stardust Circus, which has no permanent office. He had plenty to say about animal rights activists. He said they aren’t trained in animal husbandry and only repeat PETA and U.S. Humane Society talking points. He said he couldn’t believe reporters gave them any attention.

Said Ketcham, “Everybody in America in the last 30 years that has owned an elephant or horse or dog has had something against them from the USDA, anything from a dirty food dish to something more severe. These people latch onto that as if it’s the crucifixion of Christ.”

He added, “The animals are being treated very humanely. They are regulated by the USDA as they should be. The people who care for them love them.”

He said people like Scroggin just wanted “everybody to be vegans and end domestication of all animals.”

It’s unclear if the circus will arrange alternative locations for circuses that had been scheduled in Fordyce Saturday, Sunday in Benton and Tuesday in Harrisburg. They have shows that continue at fairgrounds in Warren and Searcy.

After the news, Scroggin said, “I’m appreciative of their attention to the issues I outlined. I think it’s awesome.”