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Circus will go on as planned in Billings after viral elephant escape in Butte

Runaway Elephant
Posted at 7:05 AM, Apr 18, 2024

The circus hosted by the Billings Shriners is set for April 26-28 with no changes, following the viral video of an elephant escaping its handlers in Butte on Tuesday.

The video captured 58-year-old elephant Viola trouncing down Harrison Avenue, after escaping her handler with the Jordan World Circus. That production is the same one that will be traveling to Billings next weekend.

The video has since gone viral, even gaining international attention. Many Montanans, such as Billings resident Courtney Robertson, took notice.

"My first honest reaction was one, is this real?" Robertson said of the video Wednesday afternoon. "Then I was like, 'What is going on in Butte?' This is crazy."

Once Robertson's initial questions were answered, her curiosity quickly turned to something else.

"I was like, 'Oh yeah this is real and this is kind of sad,'" Robertson said. "There is an elephant walking around in Butte, Montana, like from the circus. It just seems very apparent that it was trying to get away."

Robertson's concerns fall in line with a recent debate over the ethics behind circus performances containing animals. In 2016, Missoula became the first city in Montana banning the display or performance of any wild or exotic animals within city limits.

In 2019, at the Billings circus,protests raged over animals being involved in the show.

But still, Al Bedoo Shriner Dave Bergeson said the organization is committed to bringing the circus to Billings. Next weekend's event will be the 64th time the Shriners have brought the circus to town.

"We love the circus," Bergeson said. "It's kind of a shrine thing."

Bergeson said the circus is a big fundraiser for the nonprofit, which helps them give back to the community. They are heavily involved in the children's hospital, and while Bergeson said the circus proceeds don't directly fund the hospital, the money helps in a lot of ways.

"The fundraiser is strictly fraternal, for the fraternity, but the more money we get in on that end, the more we can do on the other end," Bergeson said.

Bergeson did recognize that many circuses have become less popular around the country due to some of the controversy, with some even being forced to change their ways.

"Some circuses have adapted to be more of an artistic show without animals," Bergeson said. "Perhaps that's the way it'll need to be in the future."

But this year, there won't be any big changes at the show in Billings. Bergeson said they let the Jordan World Circus run the show as they see fit.

"We know the animals are well cared for and treated well," Bergeson said. "We just decided to sit back and let him call the shots on that this year."

It's a decision that Robertson and many others disagree with, hoping that things might change.

"If there is a circus in this world, it should be without animals," Robertson said. "There are plenty of amazing things that human beings can do to put on a show."