Animal Defenders International (ADI) has renewed its call for the UK government to bring in its long-promised ban on wild animals in circuses without delay after a tiger owned by British big cat trainer Alexander Lacey was shot dead by police in the United States yesterday.
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. A decision on whether the permit is granted has yet to be announced by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
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 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 lionness 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.”
As well as vets, the continued use of wild animals in circuses is widely opposed by animal welfare experts, animal protection groups, politicians and a huge majority of the public. In response to a consultation by Defra on the issue, 94.5% of respondents supported a ban.
Nearly 40 countries around the world have introduced prohibitions on animals in circuses to date. In the UK, the Scottish Government has recently introduced a bill to ban wild animal acts, while a similar commitment for England has yet to progress, despite legislation being drafted, scrutinised and ready to go.