A group of about two dozen protesters from PETA gathered outside the Verizon Center to protest what they call animal cruelty by the circus.
PETA claims three of the elephants in the traveling show, which is in Washington through Sunday, should be retired. The group claims a veterinarian with years of experience has declared them lame.
Scott Payne, a spokesman for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, called the claims outrageous. He said the vet who PETA is using to make the claim has never actually examined the elephants.
Payne said all of the animals involved in the circus are examined on a constant basis by their veterinarians, who he said have decades of experience.
"In fact, all of the elephants in the Ringling Bros. show at the Verizon Center were examined Wednesday," said Payne, adding, "All of them were deemed healthy."
A PETA protester also claimed the circus chains the elephants in a way that they would only be able to move one step in any direction. The circus also disputed that, calling it a false attack.
Payne said Ringling Bros. plan to play their "Greatest Show on Earth" to upwards of 100,000 Washingtonians over the coming days. The circus is in town through Sunday.