A Pretty Tame Event : Downsized Circus Vargas Does Without Lions, Tigers, Elephants


They came in search of lions, tigers and elephants, but found a pack of soccer-playing dogs in their place.

Fans were disappointed to discover Sunday that the exotic beasts were no longer a part of Circus Vargas--the first time the animals have been excluded in the show’s 25-year history.

Instead, the only beasts to dazzle the audience were the athletic dogs from Denmark, decked out in shirts and boxer shorts.


“Other shows have lions and tigers,” said one circus employee. “We have dogs.”

While some workers attributed the decision to exclude exotic animals this year to pressure from animal-rights activists, circus officials contended that the change was made in favor of emphasizing international acts, such as Bulgarian acrobats and jugglers from the Philippines who use their feet.

“It was a decision to do something different,” said Mikyla Garrett, a Circus Vargas marketing director. “The animal activists had nothing to do with it.”

The change in programming did not escape the notice of fans, who were informed about the switch by signs at the entrance to the show at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds.

“We found out after we paid for our tickets,” said Candace Siderides of Lancaster. “Had we known, we would not have come.”

Others rolled with the change.

“It was quite disappointing,” said Kurt Carlson. “But I have to say what was there was very good.”

The exclusion of the wild beasts this year came after animal-rights activists had taken to handing out anti-animal cruelty literature and demonstrating outside shows, circus employees said.

“Everybody wants to see the animals,” said Manny Valdo, the show’s lone clown and a 50-year veteran of the circus business.

“But nobody defended the circus from animal-rights activists when they demonstrated.”

While acknowledging that the decision to exclude the animals triggered letters of approval from activists, circus marketing director Garrett stressed that they had nothing to do with the owners’ decision. Exotic animals have become difficult to obtain and keep, she said.

Garrett said the show remains entertaining because of its new international flavor.

“This is still a live performance with people doing death-defying acts,” she said.

Circus Vargas was founded in Hollywood in 1969 by the late Clifford E. Vargas, the son of a Portuguese immigrant, who sold his home to buy his first circus tent after Ringling Bros. decided that year to begin performing exclusively in indoor arenas.

In its heyday, the circus featured three rings and exotic animals, and traveled as far east as Chicago. But over the last two years the show, which now occupies only one ring, has been limited to California and a few surrounding cities in neighboring states.

The decision to reduce the scale of the show was made partly because of the poor economy, Garrett said. “We just hope we can weather this dip in the economy and start expanding again,” she said.

Today is the last day the circus will perform at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds before moving to a new location in Lancaster at Avenue K and 10th Street West, where performances will be held from Tuesday to Sunday, Garrett said.