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Detroit — On a breezy, late summer afternoon Nikki Ford stood at Cadillac Square and Woodward wearing nothing but underwear and black and white body paint.

She caught the attention of passers-by who stopped to take photos and observe her as a nude “zebra” from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA.

The organization appointed Ford, who is from Atlanta, to help spread their message for people to avoid the UniverSoul Circus while it’s in Chene Park in Detroit through Oct. 1.

PETA says zebras, elephants and other animals are forced to perform “cruel and confusing “ stunts.

“The zebras, they have no choice,” said Ford, 31, Thursday. “They are abused in the circus and travel all over the country in tiny cages.”

UniverSoul Circus said in a statement that it believes all animals deserve humane treatment and should never be mistreated.

The circus sad its animal vendors are subject to regulation by federal, state and local animal welfare authorities.

“We care about the well being of each of the animals that travels with and performs in our shows, and we regard all of them as valued members of our performing cast delivering high quality, family friendly entertainment that brings joy, happiness and laughter to audiences around the world,” the statement said.

Mysti Lee, a spokeswoman for PETA, said presenting Ford as a nude zebra grabs people’s attention and starts the conversation about animal cruelty.

“Animals are regularly beaten and denied everything that’s natural to them,” Lee said. “Nikki is out here baring her body for animals who never had a say in what happened to theirs.”

nterry@detroitnews.com

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