Animal Defenders International (ADI) has renewed its call for Congress to support the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (HR1759) after a tiger owned by former Ringling Bros big cat trainer, Alexander Lacey, was shot dead by police in Georgia yesterday.
Tim Phillips, President of Animal Defenders International, said: “When things go wrong in wild animal circuses they go seriously wrong. Aside from the public danger, this tiger has paid with her life for a human error, all in the name of frivolous entertainment. This tragic incident adds to the already overwhelming evidence showing traveling wild animal acts are not safe for animals or people and we urge Congress to act.”
HR 1759 was introduced March 28 by Representatives Ryan Costello (R-PA) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), and aims to amend the Animal Welfare Act to restrict the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses and traveling performances. The bill has 32 co-sponsors.
The tiger, called Suzy, escaped while being transported from Florida to Tennessee, during a stop in Georgia. Spotted on the interstate, the tiger entered a residential area and, as stated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, after she “became aggressive toward pets in the area, it was deemed necessary for public safety to put it down”. Transporter Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros Circus, has stated they didn’t know Suzy was missing until they had reached their destination, raising concerns as to whether the big cats were properly checked.
Alexander Lacey plans to take his tigers, lions and a leopard to a German circus, following the closure of Ringling Bros earlier this year. An application to export the big cats from the US was opposed by ADI and other animal groups, as well as members of the public. The permit was approved August 14 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service but according to staff, still needs to be signed off after a correction is made.
Over the years, ADI has caught on film a catalogue of abuse at circuses owned by the big cat trainer’s father Martin Lacey Snr:
- Tigers hit with whips and sticks by Martin Lacey Sr and his daughter Natasha Lacey.
- Elephants abused, punched, and hit with brooms and sticks by their presenter and groom. Martin Lacey Sr told Members of the British Parliament that the elephants were not chained, yet ADI video evidence showed that they were chained every day, for up to 11 hours.
- Lions and tigers confined in transporters 27 hours for a journey time of 3 hours 25 minutes.
- Government circus inspection reports revealed big cats lived the whole year in cages on the back of transporters; tigers gave birth while on tour; and an elephant that was “chronically and obviously lame,” with a chronic abscess that “should be seen by a veterinary surgeon … as soon as possible.”
- Alexander Lacey’s “beastman” lost his temper and lashed out at and hit tigers in a beast wagon; he also hit a lioness in the mouth with a metal bar.
- Alexander Lacey jabbed a big cat hard with a stick, and concealed a seriously injured lioness from inspectors.
Given the constant travel and their temporary nature, circuses cannot provide animals with adequate facilities to keep them physically or psychologically healthy. Welfare is always compromised.
Expert analysis of scientific evidence commissioned by the Welsh Government and undertaken by Professor Steven Harris at Bristol University last year concluded, “The available scientific evidence indicates that captive wild animals in circuses and other travelling animal shows do not achieve their optimal welfare requirements.” The report stated that “Life for wild animals in travelling circuses…does not appear to constitute either a ‘good life’ or a ‘life worth living’”.
The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) has concluded “there is by no means the possibility that their [wild mammals in travelling circuses’] physiological, mental and social requirements can adequately be met.”
The British Veterinary Association concludes that “The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus - in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour.”
Nearly 40 countries around the world and more than 70 local US jurisdictions have introduced prohibitions on animals in circuses to date. Several states including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have introduced and are considering similar legislation. Illinois recently passed a ban on elephant performances and the New York Governor has a similar bill on his desk awaiting signature.
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