New Law Says No To Circus Animal Acts

So, show of hands, who wants to adopt a nice tiger pussy cat?
BY: NICOLE MacINTYRE

Last July, under the General Wildlife Act, Mexico banned animals from performing in circuses across the country. Mexico became the tenth country to pass such legislation following in the footsteps of many Latin American countries. While circuses people are outraged, the Mexican Green Party, full of animal huggers, is pleased.

But the big question is where will these three thousand or so circus animals go? Do you want those lions and tigers and elephants turned out in your neighborhood? No, we didn’t think so. Well, the Mexican government did not have their ducks in a row before passing this legislation and there is no place for these helpless critters to go. Animal owners are vetting zoos and animal sanctuaries to take these beautiful beasts off their hands, but sadly this solution is off the table because most zoos and sanctuaries do not have the space. Or the chow.

Meanwhile, the president of the circus workers union say they are being targeted. “It’s a direct attack against Mexican circuses, and it is not in favor of the animals, he said.” By contrast, “Bullfighters are still allowed to perform.” Matadors are still swinging their red cape or “muleta” as it’s called in Spanish, but bull huggers are whining about that too. “The animals are not the only ones suffering, workers are too.,” says Jaime Castillo, a circus performer who is now jobless at 45 years old. “I am out of work directly because of the Green Party campaign, and the drop in ticket sales that led us to bankruptcy,” Castillo said. And now both big cats are out of work.

The argument is, big cats are not meant to be performers. On stage, the audience witnesses a tiger jumping through a burning ring, an elephant sitting like a person, a monkey dressed up like a doll. Behind the scenes it’s a different act the audience does not see. Animal advocates say elephants are forced to “rehearse” through physical violence, fear and intimidation and it doesn’t end there. These beasts are living under small living quarters and can’t be set free in their natural habitat because they were bred in captivity and would die out there in their real world. Setting these misplaced animals free is not the answer nor even an option. The Mexican government’s guidelines to own big cats in captivity require 75 square feet, for feeding and sleeping, or the owner will be fined and/or suffer the  seizure of the animal(s).

These big cats need to eat, which brings up the question, who will pay for their food? “If we can’t feed the animals, we have to put them to sleep. We don’t have any other option,” says Armando Cedeno, president of the national association of circus owners and artists. According to veterinarian, Dr. Lubi Verdugo, the cost to feed their female adult tiger who is currently housed at the Ensenada zoo requires 9 to 18 pounds of raw meat per day. This costs the owner around $200/day excluding veterinarian bills. That’s a lot of dinero for a lot of kibble. “In the wild, tigers eat up to one hundred pounds at one sitting then fast for many days.”

 People want to help. One local zoo in particular, the Children’s Park of Jersey, nestled in the Guadalupe valley of Baja’s wine country, has offered to house a few tigers, but was declined because the animal advocates feel the enclosures are not big enough. Nevertheless, Perla Jimenez, owner of the zoo, along with head veterinarian Lubi Verdugo, are creating a solution: build a savannah.

Animal advocate Johnny Ray is a huge supporter for this cause, along with helping to save street animals in Tijuana and Ensenada. His organization, Operation Love Mary, in Los Angeles California hosted a fundraiser to help the beasts. The funds were given towards the savannah project at the Children’s Park of Jersey Zoo in Ensenada. The fundraiser was a huge help, but the project needs more resources. Those who would like to donate towards the project, can contact Perla Jimenez at perlajimenez@jersey.com.mx.

This new law is just a start, and the animal rights legislation will serve as much a bulwark to activists as a warning to lawmakers: It’s fine to end the use of animals in circuses, but we do need to think through what happens to the animals once the law has permanently pried open their cage doors.