Tiger troubles under the Big Top


Tiger on a Russian Matchbox, cica 1960. Courtesy of wackystuff via Flickr
  • Tiger on a Russian Matchbox, cica 1960. Courtesy of wackystuff via Flickr


The circus is town.

Along with the clowns, acrobats and spectacle come allegations of animal neglect.

As UniverSoul Circus began this week’s run under the big top at Lafayette Square Mall, animal rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and In Defense of Animals sent press releases decrying the treatment of a circus tiger.

An amateur video shot at a recent UniverSoul stop in New York showed Mariah, one of the tigers, with her paw trapped in a cage door. Animal advocates worried that the paw had been crushed and asked officials with Indianapolis Animal Care and Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate and ensure the animal is not suffering from broken bones or other serious injuries.

UniverSoul spokesman Hank Ernest, on the other hand, said the incident “is much ado about nothing” and “looks far worse than it seems.”

A door was not slammed on the tiger’s paw, he said. The paw was trapped under a two-way metal flap that handlers slide food and water bowls.

Mariah was not injured and continues to perform, he added.

The animal rights groups also noted concerns about past issues with UniverSoul, as well. According to PETA, the group’s past violations of the Animal Welfare Act, include, the “failure to provide veterinary care, medical records, and adequate space and failure to properly maintain transport vehicles.”

UniverSoul's animal rights policy statement notes, "In over 17 years and more than 8,000 performances, none of our animal vendors have ever been cited for animal abuse while performing at the UniverSoul Circus."

The circus is bound by a host of local and national rules; authorities must confirm compliance with these rules before performances are permitted, Ernest said.

“We are in complete compliance,” he said.

The circus provided its own video, which Ernest said was shot within the past week, of the tiger resting peacefully and drinking water.

Ernest declined to provide permission for NUVO to visit the tiger holding facilities for independent verification of the tiger’s wellbeing. But, he added, all are welcome to see the tigers perform in the show.

Broader advocacy programs at both PETA and In Defense of Animals have targeting circuses that use animals in live performances.

"The wanton neglect seen in this video leads us to believe that this tiger may still be suffering from wounds," PETA Director Delcianna Winders said in a press release. "We want Indianapolis Animal Care & Control to make sure that UniverSoul is not forcing an injured animal to perform stupid, grueling tricks if he or she is hurt."

Indianapolis Animal Care and Control staff or voicemail did not pick up a phone call left in limbo for more than 20 minutes on its electronic answering service.

Meanwhile, as UniverSoul remains focused on its mission to bring "joy, happiness and laughter to audiences around the world."

UniverSoul tigers during a performance. (Photo courtesy of UniverSoul Circus.)
  • UniverSoul tigers during a performance. (Photo courtesy of UniverSoul Circus.)


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