Footage Captures Shocking Conditions And Treatment Of Circus Animals

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg…

A tiger in captivity at the Circus.

Footage released by Animal Defenders International (ADI) has shone a light on the grim reality behind the bright lights and eye-catching delights of a trip to the circus.

The video focuses on former Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus big cat trainer Alexander Lacey, who is back performing in Europe following his controversial departure from the US last month. In the clip, the trainer is seen with his lions and tigers at the “Grande Fête Lilloise du Cirque” in Lille, France where Lacey will be performing until 12 November before moving to Germany.

Lacey left the United States last month under a cloud following the closure of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus and following a separate incident that left a tiger called Suzy shot dead in Georgia after the animal escaped without anyone realising.

The new footage from ADI shows an archaic circus performance and the animals forced to live in mobile cages on the backs of trucks, despite the circus previously claiming the tigers were being sent to Europe “for the purpose of enhancement of the survival of the species.”

Twelve of Alexander Lacey’s fourteen big cats – seven tigers and five lions – perform in the 8-minute show which opens with the animals sat on stools, some in a ‘begging’ position. During the act, the big cats jump from stool to stool and over one another, snarling and swiping at the trainer on cue. One by one they leave the ring until just one remains whom Lacey gives the obligatory circus big cat kiss. 

The big cats are housed in a series of cages, each with access to a small exercise area, sited on gravel and containing just a ball, the animals’ only enrichment. During ADI’s observations animals remained in their cages, with lions, tigers and the leopard documented pacing back and forth. These repetitive, abnormal movements known as stereotypic behaviour are commonly seen in circus animals but never in the wild.

Tim Phillips, President of Animal Defenders International, said: “The plight of these animals symbolizes everything that is wrong with the use of animals in travelling circuses. They are forced to live in cages on the backs of trucks and shunted from one country to another.  The lives of these animals are miserable and, as we saw tragically in Georgia, the public and the animals themselves are put at risk.   40 countries have taken steps to outlaw this, but we urgently need more countries to act to end circus suffering.”

Alexander Lacey had previously toured Britain and Europe with his big cats before touring the United States with Ringling Bros. Circus before it closed down in May.  In June, an application from the circus’ parent company Feld Entertainment to export his eight tigers to Germany “for the purpose of enhancement of the survival of the species” was published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for public comment. Despite opposition from ADI and members of the public, the application was approved on 14 August,

A week before the big cats left for Europe one of Lacey’s tigers was shot dead by police in Georgia after escaping during a stop en route to Tennessee on 6 September. Spotted on the interstate, tiger Suzy 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”. Feld Entertainment was unaware that the tiger was missing until they had reached their destination, indicating the big cats were not checked during their journey.

Prior to their departure from Memphis International Airport on 12 September, the fourteen big cats were holed up in Arkansas, a neighbouring state. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the big cats should have left the country on 6 September on a Fedex flight to Cologne but “Fish and Wildlife inspectors at the airport would not allow the cats on the plane, saying their enclosures needed fortifying “to prevent escape” while airborne.”

Over the years, ADI has caught on film a catalogue of abuse at circuses owned by Lacey’s father Martin Lacey Sr. including 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 they were chained daily for up to 11 hours; lions and tigers confined in transporters 27 hours for a journey time of 3 hours 25 minutes; Alexander Lacey’s “beastman” was filming losing his temper, screaming at and hitting tigers, and also hitting a lioness in the mouth with a metal bar; Alexander Lacey was filmed jabbing a big cat and concealing a seriously injured lioness from inspectors.

Alexander Lacey is set to return to Germany, where he will present his act at the Heilbronner Weihnacts circus from 20 December until 7 January. 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 Stephen 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’”.

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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.