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Is the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus Worth It?

The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus is coming to town! This big-top revue has roamed America for nearly 40 years. Visitors can see jaw-dropping stunts, death-defying acrobatics, and tricks from big cuddly cats.

But how well are those big cats treated behind the scenes, and is the truth worth a day at the circus?

Today we’ll learn how this traveling troupe treats their furry friends.

Let’s hit the stage!

What Is the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus?

The Culpepper & Merriweather Great Combined Circus started in 1985. The original troupe only had three members: Robert Johnson, Jim Hebert, and Curtis Cainan. In its first year, the show was funded entirely by audience donations. Eventually, the trio added performers, animals, and equipment.

Despite getting their start in Arizona, the troupe eventually moved to Hugo, Oklahoma. Culpepper & Merriweather is the 20th group to put down roots in the area, also known as “Circus City, USA.” It’s also one of three acts currently operating in Choctaw County.

This troupe bills itself as one of the US’s last “big top” circuses. True to their word, they use traditional stunt acts. They’re also proud of their animal stars. According to their website, they get monthly vet visits and humane training.

What Is the Circus Experience Like?

The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus has shows that last about 90 minutes. During that time, fans view performances of all kinds. The 2022 program included aerialists, bareback horse riders, tightrope walkers, balance stunts, and trained animals.

And like any good traveling show, they have clowns.

According to co-owner and performer Simone Key, the group focuses on traditional, vintage acts. In an interview, Key describes Merriweather & Culpepper as “about as old-school as it gets without going around in wagons.”

The traveling show’s focus on a traditional experience has paid off. Their 2022 tour had more than 200 stops in 17 states.

Circus tent
Catch the performance of a lifetime at the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus.

What Animals Does the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus Use?

Historically, animals are the highlight of any circus act. Culpepper & Merriweather are proud of their animal performers, which include three big cats. The group has two golden tabby tigers, Delilah and Solomon, from the same litter. Their newest addition is a lion they call Wendell.

According to the troupe’s website, Delilah and Solomon were rescued from a closed zoo. A private owner gave him up the lion after he reached adulthood.

Culpepper & Merriweather claim that positive reinforcement is their only training method. As a result, no two shows are alike. The circus notes its USDA license and checks as proof of its careful approach. The cats even receive medical care every 30 days.

Does the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus Respect Animals?

Despite the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus’s friendly image, some people don’t find them wholesome. The circus has had plenty of PR problems behind the scenes.

According to PETA, the troupe has received dozens of animal offenses from the USDA since 1991. They include poor shelter, lack of vet care, and damaged equipment. The group’s license was suspended for six months in 2011.

Pro Tip: You don’t need to go to the circus to see impressive animals. Check out these North American Big Cats You May See When You’re Camping.

Circus sign
Some states are starting to ban circuses due to animal rights issues.

Why Are States Banning Circuses?

Visiting a circus can be an incredible experience. For some people, they’re rare chances to see exotic animals and enjoy entertaining performances. However, many states are banning them due to their inhumane conditions.

Many troupes subject their animal performers to cruel training methods and small cages. Outside of performances, they’re kept in cages without climate control or proper space.

These conditions make many animals sick, sometimes with deadly diseases. There isn’t a single major animal circus in America that hasn’t been cited for animal welfare offenses.

Like Culpepper & Merriweather Circus, many other troupes experience animal escapes. When large animals break out, they threaten themselves and the public. Rogue animals are sometimes even killed by police as a last resort.

As the number of violations grows, so does the number of laws banning cruel practices. Many major U.S. cities have outlawed animal acts. Six states, California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, currently have limits or bans on these performances.

Are There Animal-Free Circuses?

Feeling torn between your love for animals and your passion for spectacle? The good news is you don’t have to choose between them. You can find several incredible animal-free shows in the US.

One of the most famous is Cirque du Soleil. This group has wowed audiences with jaw-dropping stunts for over 30 years. Quebec-based Cirque Eloize offers similar performances, including music and dance.

For a big-top-style revue, check out Circus Vargas. Their productions include traditional acts like acrobats, clowns, magicians, and contortionists. However, their most exciting feature could be the motorcycle stunt team or the illusionist.

Interested in something more theatrical? Check out Cirque Productions, whose productions blend Broadway pizzazz with European elegance. Portland’s Wanderlust Circus takes theatricality to the public, drawing audiences in with improvised street performances.

Is Attending the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus a Good Idea?

If you value animal welfare, think twice before attending Culpepper & Merriweather Circus. Many people struggle with the ethically murky nature of these performances. But other options that don’t use wildlife are available if the issue is important to you.

On the other hand, if you want the old-school circus experience, then you may have a wonderful time with the whole family.

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