JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

For many families, it's an annual tradition complete with elephants, clowns and good clean fun.

The circus opens Thursday night at the Veterans Memorial Arena, and that's also where you'll find protesters upset with the way they say the animals are treated.

"We have a 5-year-old and he's all excited for it," said Robert JonJock.

JonJock said he can't wait for the circus to come to Jacksonville because his family anxiously wants to see the animals. He knows his son will likely see protesters, too.

"I explain to him sometimes that there's people that don't like it," JonJock said.

"What makes me angry if you compare and contrast the way these elephants live in the wild and how they're treated in the circus, and you start to see how they live, it's very different," said Adam Sugalski, of JaxProtest.

Sugalski and others who oppose animals being kept in captivity say every time the animals come to town, they'll be there, too, so the public can see what he claims goes on behind the scenes.

"The elephants are chained and they're separated somewhat from each other, and in the wild elephants are highly social, one of the most social creatures," Sugalski said. "They're constantly touching each other. They have a strict family order."

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is defending their treatment of circus animals, saying in a statement, "The animals traveling with our circus are healthy and well cared for at all times. Exhibitors with the animals are required to be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture."

Circus officials say the animals have daily regular routines that help to maintain their physical fitness and mental well-being. But protesters say nothing can compare to living in the wild.

"Their life is as performing and chaining, and then chained. I don't think it's any way for any animal or anyone to live," Sugalski said.

"I think those animals are taken care of better than some people," JonJock said. "They're very well taken care of."

For more information about the circus, click here.