Since UniverSoul Circus touched down at Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field last week, PETA activists have staked out the parade ground's entrance for an hour before each show, waving signs and shouting into bullhorns while cars whiz by on busy Flatbush Avenue.

The picketers, who were joined last week by elementary school children on their spring break, are protesting UniverSoul's decision to feature elephants in their Brooklyn show this year. PETA is particularly incensed about an incident that occurred during a UniverSoul Circus show in Atlanta in February, when an audience member captured Larry Dean Carden, one of the circus trainers, inserting a bullhook (similar to a sharp fireplace poker) into Bo the elephant's mouth, in an effort to get the elephant off stage. Carden was charged with violating Atlanta's animal cruelty law; his court date is set for April 24th.

PETA recounted the incident in a statement :

Other witnesses reported that the incident began when an elephant named Bo missed a stunt in his circus routine and then appeared terrified to go backstage, remaining onstage for nearly an hour. Bullhooks are the weapon of choice among elephant handlers, who force these wondrous animals to perform unnatural and confusing tricks by causing them pain and instilling fear in them. Jurisdictions across the country are recognizing bullhooks for what they are--weapons--and they're being banned in cities and towns nationwide.

UniverSoul's decision to feature elephants in its 2015 shows seems to be at odds with a budding consensus, both inside and outside the circus industry, that elephants don't belong under the big top. Last year, the NYC Department of Health forbid UniverSoul from featuring elephants, citing the circus's failure to test them for tuberculosis (a disease relatively common in the species). UniverSoul filed suit against the city, but ultimately left the elephants out of the ring until department conditions were met.

And just last month, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it will phase out all 48 of its elephants by 2018. This announcement prompted Borough President Eric Adams to write a personal letter to UniverSoul director Cedric Walker. In the letter, shared with us by animal rights group NYCLASS, Adams stated:

"On behalf of 2.6 million Brooklynites who call this borough home, I write to urge you to refrain from bringing elephants into UniverSoul Circus Performances in Brooklyn and throughout New York City.

The announcement that Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus will be phasing out the elephant act was welcome at my office. In fact, I met with leaders from Feld Entertainment a week prior to their announcement to urge ending the use of elephants in their shows as well as employing training methods based on fear. In particular, I expressed concern that tools such as bullhooks are barbaric in nature and have no place in any circus."

For its own part, NYCLASS has spent the last few weeks circulating a petition urging Groupon to stop selling UniverSoul Coupons.

PETA campaigner John Di Leonardo, who picketed the circus this weekend, told us turnout was strong on Saturday, with about thirty protestors. "Lots of people stopped their cars," he said. "We had a bullhook on display, so that people could touch it." One popular chant, "Chains are for swings, not elephants," is meant to appeal to children. "It's cute," De Leonardo said, "It gets the point across without being too graphic."

A circus animal rights policy statement on UniverSoul's website states: "We strongly oppose any form of cruelty or mistreatment of animals, wild or domestic—and will not tolerate any mistreatment on our circus site. In over 19 years and more than 10,000 performances, none of our animal vendors have ever been cited for animal abuse while performing at the UniverSoul Circus."