On the eve of Ringling Bros. permanently ending its traveling animal-based circus acts, The Humane Society of the United States released the results of a disturbing undercover investigation of a different traveling tiger act used by the Carden Circus and Shrine Circuses, showing tigers being regularly whipped and hit. In one instance, the investigator witnessed a trainer angrily whip at a tiger 31 times in less than two minutes after he became frustrated with the animal during a training session.
The HSUS investigation of ShowMe Tigers, a traveling tiger act hired to perform in circus shows, revealed numerous potential violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act and raises alarm about the violent handling and inhumane confinement of the tigers as well as safety concerns for the animals and public. ShowMe Tigers is owned and operated by tiger trainer Ryan Easley (aka Ryan Holder), one of many tiger trainers who contract with regional circuses around the country.
The investigation took place from December 28, 2016 through January 18, 2017, during which time The HSUS investigator was with Easley at his headquarters in Hugo, Oklahoma followed by nine days on the road while Easley toured with the Carden Circus, often performing for Shrine Circuses, in Sulfur Springs, Giddings, Bryan and Cedar Park, Texas, and in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Last year, Easley performed all season at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Prior to that, Easley toured with the Kelly Miller Circus for years.
The HSUS has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture asserting likely violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and is urging the agency to investigate ShowMe Tigers and take swift enforcement action for violations of federal law.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS said: “While it’s true that Ringling is going out of business, other circuses are still operating and using inhumane methods of handling wild animals. There’s no excuse or rationale for whipping tigers or other wild animals for these silly performances. All circuses should end their wild animal acts.”
- A tiger named Tora did not receive veterinary care for a raw open wound on the side of her face. The USDA had previously cited Easley for not providing veterinary care to Tora when she had a laceration on her ribcage.
- The distressed tigers were whipped and terrorized to force them to perform physically difficult tricks, including one tiger who was forced to “moonwalk” on her hind legs.
- The tigers cowered, flinched and moaned in distress and flattened their ears back in a fearful response to being whipped and hit with a stick, typical behavior of traumatized and abused tigers. The mere presence of these tools during performances evoked classic signs of fear and behavioral stress.
- While traveling, except for the few minutes each day when the tigers performed, they were kept exclusively in transport cages, where they ate, slept, paced, urinated and defecated in the mere 13-square feet of space afforded to each tiger. Not once were they provided the chance to exercise outside the cages. In fact, the tigers’ exercise cage was never unloaded from the trailer.
- In Hugo, Oklahoma, the tigers had no heat source and only an inch of bedding during temperatures often well below freezing.
- Easley withheld food from the tigers on five of the 22 days of the investigation, fed them only raw chicken and rarely provided necessary dietary supplements.
- In a statement provided to The HSUS, Jay Pratte, an animal-behavior expert, trainer, and wildlife consultant with 25 years of experience, said: “Ryan Easley utilizes archaic training methods which entail fear, force and punishment. In my professional opinion, the tigers at ShowMe Tigers are suffering from psychological neglect and trauma on a daily basis.”