Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Opposing the export of Ringling big cats.

Posted: 23 June 2017. Updated: 8 September 2017


Following the demise of Ringling Brothers Circus, upon failing to adapt to changing attitudes and falling ticket sales, big cat trainer Alexander Lacey plans to return to Europe and present his outdated act there. He will be bringing his circus cats (7 tigers, 6 lions, and a leopard) to Germany. An eighth tiger who was to join them, Suzy, was fatally shot by police in Georgia after escaping at a transport stop on 6 September.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service approved the permit application filed by Feld Entertainment Industries (parent company to Ringling) on 14 August. During the period of public comment, ADI submitted its opposition to the application, citing years of Lacey family circus cruelty and the devastating effects of traveling circus life on animals generally. ADI also refuted Feld’s claim such acts provided “unparalleled” education, with scientific evidence debunking that antiquated notion.

ADI’s submission, which urged the cats be moved to a GFAS-accredited sanctuary, is available here. See also below for the letter submitted by many of our supporters.

Thank you to everyone who commented in opposition to this move. The approval of the permit underlines the importance of our global work to stop circus suffering. As one country takes action, we must stop the abuse being exported elsewhere.

Investigations undertaken by Animal Defenders International of circuses owned by Martin Lacey Sr, who exported a number of the big cats included in the application from the UK to US and is the father of Alexander Lacey, document 10+ years of family animal abuse, including:

  • Tigers lashed with whips and hit with sticks by Martin Lacey Sr and his daughter Natasha Lacey.

  • Elephants viciously abused, punched, and hit with brooms and sticks by their presenter and groom. Martin Lacey Sr told Members of the Parliament in the UK 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.

  • UK 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.

Claims in the permit application that the use of the big cats in circuses provides educational and conservation benefits are not supported by current evidence. Expert analysis of scientific evidence commissioned by the Welsh Government and undertaken by Professor Stephen Harris at Bristol University states that “Life for wild animals in travelling circuses…does not appear to constitute either a ‘good life’ or a ‘life worth living’” and that “[T]he education and conservation role of travelling circuses… likely to be marginal, and any potential educational and conservation benefits are likely to be outweighed by the negative impression generated by using wild animals for entertainment.”

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, representing veterinary organizations from 38 European countries, recommends “all European and national competent authorities to prohibit the use of wild mammals in travelling circuses across Europe” stating “There is little or no educational, conservational, research or economic benefit derived from the use of wild mammals in travelling circuses that might justify their use. In addition to the welfare considerations, the use of wild mammals in circuses can represent serious animal health and public health and safety risks.”

© Animal Defenders International 2020