Mexico is searching for homes for at least 2,000 tigers, elephants, giraffes, zebras and other exotic beasts that will soon be banned from the country’s circuses.
Circus owners are worried about the fate of their animals, which they say are too expensive to keep once the ban kicks in, while government and zoo officials are grappling with myriad difficulties in relocating animals raised to perform tricks under the big top.
The prohibition does not take effect until July 8, but many circuses have already shut down. The legislation stipulates that such animals should evolve in their natural habitat and aims to avoid animal cruelty that civil organizations have long lobbied against.
Cedeno estimates there are around 4,000 circus animals in Mexico, double the government’s tally.
In Tizayuca, near Mexico City, 45-year-old animal tamer Bruno Raffo begins his work day at 7:30 a.m., tending to 13 tigers in his charge.
It costs 3,000 Mexican pesos ($194) daily just to feed the tigers and there are also his owns salary and bills from specialized veterinarians for periodic check-ups.
Hundreds of circus workers have been laid off because of the law, but Raffo says animals in circus care are treated well.
“You just saw how the tigers are looked after. How they’re well looked after in the circus, they’re working too. Regarding their work in the show we’re talking about 12, 15 minutes. Nothing more, and they spend the rest of the day playing and sleeping,” he said.
Several circus owners have properties in the area. Nearby, jaguars, zebras, horses, and camels languish in cages next to trailers filled with circus equipment.
Privately owned zoos have offered to help but the transition for some many wild animals would be challenging.
But zoo officials do not see any easy alternatives for Raffo’s tigers and others like them.
Armando Cedeno, union president for circus artists, told Reuters many circus animals are in a state of limbo.
Mexico’s federal agency for environmental protection, PROFEPA, said the government was evaluating which facilities can take the animals.
Animal activists in Mexico have accused circus owners of turning animals into the victims of the move to prohibit wild animals from their shows.
“They do this for victimization. Sacrificing them (animals) is a crime that has a fine of more than 3,000,000 (approximately $200,000), including imprisonment. So there is this victimization to think that they (animals) are suffering, that we’re taking advantage of them. The only thing that’s happen is that the law is being carried out and they can keep using their animals. And if people don’t go to circuses that have animals it is because they want a new show and circus owners can do this,” said activist, Antonio Franyuti.
Mexico City was the latest region in the country to join six other states that ban the use of animals in circuses, after several activist campaigns alleged abuse of wild animals locked up in cages and forced to travel long distances around the country.