Members of Nashville Animal Advocacy led a small group of PETA supporters outside of Bridgestone Arena Thursday night.
Ringling Brothers circus arrived for a seven-performance event downtown.
The protesters passed out flyers and urged attendees to stay away from the circus until what they said "animals are no longer caged, chained, or beaten into performing under the big top."
One protester said pulling the elephants out of the shows was a step in the right direction but other animals are still suffering each day.
"There's so many other options. There are human performers who actually want to do this that are willing. Cirque Du Soleil actually has outsold Ringling and it's showing that the public like they know what they want. They want more human performers, more willing performers, they don't want the cruelty that's going on here," Nashville Animal Advocacy communication director Ashley Roth said.
A long-time animal trainer said circus trainers have years of experience working with animals.
Ryan Henning said he invites all animal activists to come to the performances.
"We invite the animal extremists to come on in and watch the show and see for themselves our all access pre-show...and watch the performance and see the relationship between man and animal that you can witness right here in our performance," Henning said.
The PETA supporters said they plan to stand outside the Bridgestone Arena before the next six circus performances downtown.