LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus will begin a seven-day run Wednesday night at Staples Center, where a coalition of animal rights groups plans what it calls the “biggest circus protest on Earth” in hopes of ending the use of animals in circuses.

“Circuses are inherently cruel for wild animals who are separated from their families, brutally trained to perform unnatural tricks, chained, confined to small cages and pens and transported around the county in cramped train cars for months on end,” said Catherine Doyle, director of In Defense of Animals’ Elephant Campaign.

Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, called Doyle’s comments “yet again another piece of misinformation from a group that has no idea of what it takes to take care of animals.”

“We have a lifetime commitment to all of the animals in our care,” Payne said. “We have a committed group of men and women who spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, taking care of the animals. They travel in specially designed railroad cars or other enclosures and they receive round-the-clock care.”

Doyle said she is hoping the number of protesters at least matches the 500 that attended last year’s demonstration. Payne said he expected several thousand people to attend the circus tonight.

The show is titled “Dragons,” celebrating the Chinese year of the dragon. It combines mystic dragon lore with circus feats of bravery and athleticism and a 22-foot tall, 4,000-pound dragon, with nearly 2,000 scales, all hand-sewn.

“The concept of the show really blends the reality of `The Greatest Show on Earth’ and all the acts and traditions that you love with that, with the fantastical, the dragon,” producer Nicole Feld said.

Work on any Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey show begins about 12 to 18 months before its January debut, according to Feld.

To turn the theme into a show, Feld sought out Shanda Sawyer, who directed two previous editions of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and choreographed, directed and consulted on the Academy Awards, “Dancing with the Stars,” and the Miss America Pageant.
Each show will be preceded by the all-access pre-show, where one hour before the start of the circus ticket holders can go to the arena floor to learn juggling and balancing skills, get autographs from performers, see an elephant paint a picture and meet the circus’ clowns

Here is the schedule for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at Staples Center:

Wednesday — 7:30 p.m.;

Thursday — Noon, 7:30 p.m.;

Friday — Noon, 7:30 p.m.;

Saturday — 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.;

Sunday — 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.;

Monday — Noon, 7:30 p.m.; and

Tuesday — Noon, 7:30 p.m..

Following its run at Staples Center, the circus will be presented at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario from July 20-24 and Honda Center in Anaheim from July 27-Aug. 5.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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