Who would dump half a ton of manure at the door of Donald Trump? Here’s a hint: The protesters stuck a sign in the pile of poo declaring “Trump animal circuses stink.”

Two decades ago, the future U.S. president was the target of animal rights activists because one of his casino hotels, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, was presenting the Moscow Circus. (Note to FBI Director James Comey: early Russian connection?) The protesters from out of state dropped their load early in the morning at the casino entrance, and one told a Press reporter, “We wanted to send him a message that animal circuses stink, and now it stinks for him, too.”

Circuses and protesters have been inseparable in South Jersey for many years, but now the end is near. Circuses, being businesses, need to make money, while protesters need only to protest.

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Just as the big show had to pack up and find another place to perform, the battle over what’s morally acceptable behavior will have to find another human/animal subject.

The Moscow Circus protests started in 1990, with activists dressed as elephants and bears on the Boardwalk. They said using animals to entertain people was exploitation, and their goal was to get the Taj Mahal to quit hosting the circus. Four years later, they were dumping manure, prompting complaints from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that it made legitimate animal advocates look bad.

The Cole Bros. Circus, a true big-top operation more than a century old, was targeted for years when it performed in South Jersey. A small group at its 2012 shows at Atlantic City Race Course said animals should be respected and not taken from their families.

A few years later, a protester at a Cole Bros. show in Vineland said she was not respected and filed a harassment complaint with police. Besides circus performers “hollering and yelling” at her, she alleged, a local man in a pickup truck cursed, called her uneducated and spit at her from 30 feet away.

Last year, the Kelly Miller Circus, nearly 80 years old, was targeted when it performed at the Atlantic County 4-H Fairgrounds. Its general manager made a strong case for the well-being of its animals, citing their regular veterinary care, air-conditioned transport and living off-season on ranches.

The Greatest Show on Earth made a strong defense against animal abuse charges, too. In 2014, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus won a $25 million settlement from the Humane Society and other groups for their unfair campaign against the circus.

But last year, the firm caved to pressure and dropped its famous performing elephants. Turned out the elephants were a top draw, attendance plunged and this year Ringling Bros. announced it would end its 146-year run after shows in May.

We remember, as some of our readers do, a time when traveling circuses had side shows with bearded ladies, conjoined twins and such. Society came to think, without the encouragement of protesters as far as we can recall, that exhibiting people was improper and the side shows disappeared.

Recently, the pro-animal protests in the region stepped up a notch, with Cumberland County and Vineland banning circus shows from their properties. We take that as a sign that public interest in circuses has faded, more due to competing digital entertainments and videogames than attempts by animal rights activists to drive away the audience.

The era of the classic circus is ending, like vaudeville before it. Protesters will turn to some other aspect of people’s treatment of animals, and the human circus of conflicting desires and morals will continue.

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