Their future will likely be even worse than their time in the barn.
The Ringling Bros. may have wrapped up their circus shows, but that doesn’t mean that their animals are now free or safe at a sanctuary. Though the circus shut down largely because of citizens’ objection to the treatment of the show’s animals, the company did not choose to send them to a place where they could retire in peace. Instead, they chose for the big cats to head to Zirkus Crone, a circus in Germany who has been accused of the exact same abuses that the Ringling Bros. have. What’s worse is that, even though the last show occurred in May of this year, most of the tigers hadn’t even made their way to Germany yet.
In response to a call last week, officers from Poinsette County in Arkansas were tipped off about exotic animals that were being held in a barn. The caller wished to remain anonymous, but wanted to alert the authorities, especially after what happened with one of the previous Ringling Bros. tigers being transported earlier this month. That 6-year-old Bengal tiger, named Suzy, escaped during transport from Florida to Tennessee and was shot and killed after she entered a backyard and threatened the residents and a pet.
“Needless to say, [the call] was strange,” Sheriff Kevin Molder said. “In my 22½ years of law enforcement, I’ve never had a call like that. We seriously thought it was just a prank call.”
Despite the claim being incredible, a deputy was sent to check out the barn and he couldn’t believe what he saw. Through an open door, he was able to see at least a dozen big cats in individual cages just hanging out in the hot barn. It’s unclear how long they had been there, but the deputy immediately called it in.
More officers from the county sheriff’s office arrived, as well as state wildlife officers who had to assist with the strange situation, and determined that there were seven tigers, six lions and one leopard all stashed inside the barn.
“They were sitting in their cages, looking at us,” Molder said of the 14 animals. “I’ve never been that close to animals like that. It was a sight.”
Upon further investigation, the officers discovered that the owner of the animals was Alexander Lacey, a former trainer for the Ringling Bros. who was in the midst of transporting these animals to Germany. Lacey reportedly already had the necessary papers to transport the cats, but for whatever reason had decided to keep them in Arkansas for an unknown amount of time and failed to report their temporary housing to authorities. It’s unclear if Lacey will face charges for this.
With the help of state wildlife officials, the tigers were soon transported the big cats to Memphis International Airport, where the animals were loaded onto a plane and sent to Germany. Unfortunately, their fate is, just as their past, likely to be dim. While animal advocates had hoped for the animals to be retired and released to sanctuaries, the Ringling Bros. decided to instead send them to the circus in Germany.
Though the circus claimed that their purpose overseas would be “to enhance the propagation or survival of the species,” this was just a declaration made to appease the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW). The USFW requires that exotic animals be transported only for this express purpose, however, it is well-known that the U.S. agency engages in shady tactics to sign off on permits.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has historically taken a controversial ‘pay-to-play’ approach to the enhancement requirement, often rubber-stamping permits for objectionable uses of endangered species so long as the applicant makes a nominal donation to a conservation program,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund said in a statement. “It is well-established that use of tigers in circuses fails to educate the public and has no nexus to legitimate species conservation. In fact, many experts opine that the use of exotic animals for entertainment acts and other traveling shows is harmful to their wild counterparts.”
This is exactly the fate that all of the big cats from the Ringling Bros. face, as well as the elephants who were sent to the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida last year. Despite the soothing name, this very organization was at the center of the Ringling Bros. abuse controversy in recent years because of their practices. It’s terrible that the wild animals are being subjected to this lifelong abuse. You can help by refusing to see or participate in any entertainment acts that involve wild animals. As viewership and demand lessens, so will the demand for performing wild animals.