PETA protests outside Richmond elementary school

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Students and parents saw a rare sight outside a Richmond elementary school Wednesday afternoon.  Kids were greeted by an elephant mascot with a bloody head wound.  This all happened as students at Carver Elementary School were released for the day.

PETA's "Ellie the Elephant" got mixed reactions Wednesday.  One child told us Ellie was nice; another commented on her bloody bandage.

The protest stayed off school grounds as parents picked up their children at the end of the day.  Sometimes there were high fives and hugs, other times questions.  One kid asked what happened to Ellie's head.  A campaigner explained, "Well, she got hit in the circus.  That's how they make her perform."

Ellie's bandage is just some cotton gauze with red nail polish to represent blood.  PETA said this is what could happen to a real elephant if prodded with a bull hook.

"These animals in the wild would not normally balance on a ball or do tricks and they only do so out of fear of punishment," campaigner Lauren Stroyeck explained.

Stroyeck said Ellie's goal is to discourage people from buying tickets to the Ringling Brothers show at the coliseum down the street from Carver.  It's in town later this month.

Not everyone thought the message was appropriate for children.  We introduced you to Annette Jackson Tuesday night.  Just as she said she would, she pulled her grandchildren out of school early and told them to ignore Ellie.

"It was awful," Jackson told us.  "I saw all the other children waving at the elephant but they evidently didn't see that his head had been hurt.  I don't want them to see it. I told them not to even look at it."

Richmond Police brought in extra officers to make sure everything remained peaceful.  Most left when they saw the demonstrators and children were calm.

School security officers also stood outside as the students walked past the protest.  Officials sent a message on the email system Tuesday night saying this was in no way affiliated with Richmond Public Schools.

And while PETA is protesting the circus, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey denies any ill treatment of its animals.  A statement on its website says "our training methods are based on reinforcement in the form of food rewards and words of praise.  Verbal or physical abuse and the withholding of food or water are strictly prohibited."

The circus also has a conservation program specifically for elephants.

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