Although elephants will no longer appear in Illinois circuses after this year, the fight continues for local residents opposed to using wild animals in the shows.
Protesters waved signs outside the Kelly Miller Circus in Elk Grove Village on Wednesday as one of the final suburban performances including elephants continued inside the one-ring circus.
"We are definitely going to be here until there are animal-free circuses all over," said Elk Grove Village resident Rachel Carrell, who has been protesting at the circus the past nine years.
In August, Illinois became the first state to ban elephants from performing in circuses or traveling exhibits. The law takes effect Jan. 1.
The Kelly Miller Circus, which is running a slate of shows throughout the state this fall, has said its employees treat animals properly and that it plans to continue performing in Illinois even without elephants.
The Elk Grove Village Lions Club sponsors the circus as a fundraiser for the organization.
"We are a peaceable people," said Katy Dolan Baumer, secretary for the local chapter. "We're just trying to serve our neighbors, our residents, our friends."
The circus says it seeks to be transparent by inviting the local community to watch animals prepare for the show. On Wednesday, the employees could be seen bathing the circus' two elephants.
However, critics argue the training tactics used on animals in circuses when the public is not around are cruel.
Gina Stramaglio, another Elk Grove Village resident protesting the circus, said she and her family used to visit the circus until she looked up videos online showing animals being trained.
"If anyone witnesses a day in the life of these animals, there's nothing great and inspiring about that," Stramaglio said.
Whether circuses will continue visiting Illinois after the law takes effect is uncertain. A year after the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped using elephants, the premier show shut down amid dwindling ticket sales.
Despite the protests, Dolan Baumer said she sensed enthusiasm from the community for the final circus with elephants.
"Who knows if they'll come back," she said. "People are buying tickets because they know it's the last one with elephants so there's this underlying excitement for it."