DETROIT, MICH. - Before she was asked to leave by a security guard for not having a permit, Atlanta native Nikki Ford was quite the distraction at the corner of Cadillac Square and Woodward on Thursday afternoon.
Ford, 31, and colleague Mysti Lee, 22, both of Chicago, were protesting against the UniverSoul Circus on behalf of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The circus is in town this week at Chene Park in Detroit, starting tonight at 7 p.m. The circus has performed in Detroit for the last 22 years.
PETA supporter Nikki Ford, 31 of Atlanta protests the use of animals by Universoul Circus downtown Detroit on Thursday, September 7, 2017. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)
Fashioning zebra stripes in black and white body paint and a small bikini bottom, Ford posed while Lee handed out flyers encouraging people not to attend the circus because of its treatment of elephants and tigers in the acts.
“I didn’t think we needed a permit because we were on a public street,’’ said Lee, who left school at Aurora University in Illinois to take up the cause.
UniverSoul circus, according to PETA, denies zebras, elephants and tigers everything that's natural and important to them, said Rachel Mathews, the PETA Foundation associate director of captive animal law enforcement. "PETA is calling on everyone to refuse to buy tickets to any circus that still uses animals.''
Two years ago, PETA said two UniverSoul Circus elephants set to perform at Chene Park carried a strain of tuberculosis that was transmittable to humans, but a circus spokesman said the animals were healthy and had been cleared for travel by the federal agriculture department.
Circuses nationwide have come under fire for using animals like elephants and tigers. A bill reintroduced this year in the U.S. House of Representatives would ban the use of exotic animals in circuses.
The backlash over circuses resulted in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closing for good last May after 146 years.
UniverSoul was started in 1994 by Cedric Walker, who had a vision of a circus with people of color performing. Headquartered in Atlanta, the circus has people from 24 countries performing.
On Thursday, Ford had only a sign to protect her against the chilly wind.
“It is a little cold out,’’ said Ford. “I’m a vegan. ... We’ve been following (the circus) since February. We’ve hit every city, and we hit on opening night. Today is opening night for Detroit.’’
The protest drew spectators, who were divided on the issue.
Charles Williams, 58, of White Lake took a flyer from Lee and said he’d have to mull it over.
“I have to think about this,’’ said Williams. “I’m kind of a fan, but … I’m not for the cruelty. If the animals had their choice, they’d probably be in Africa.’’
Jace Pearson, 32, of Detroit said he still supported the circus.
“They need to put some type of measures in place, but I’d still go,’’ he said.
Lee said the next show is Oct. 4 in Chicago, and she and Ford will be there to encourage people not to attend.
“The organization pays for us to travel, but it’s worth it,’’ said Lee. “We speak up for animals that don’t have a voice.’’
UniverSoul Circus performs in Detroit at Chene Park, 2600 E. Atwater, through Oct. 1.
The shows start at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $18.50-$40 and can be purchased at the Chene Park Amphitheater or by calling 800-833-7698.
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© 2017 Detroit Free Press