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This Is What Life In The Circus Is Like For Lions And Tigers

The decision to take elephants out of the Ringling Bros. Circus is an important step. But there is a long way to go to ensure that no animals are suffering for our entertainment.

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Last week, Ringling Bros. Circus announced that elephants would no longer be a part of its circus performances after 2018.

Seth Wenig / Associated Press

The move is considered a step in the right direction toward cruelty-free circuses that do not feature animals. However, many animal welfare organizations noted concern that other wild animals will continue to be used in the circus despite evidence that they suffer similarly cruel treatment.

Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, said in a press release, “After decades of exposing the suffering of animals in circuses behind the scenes, ADI is very pleased to hear this announcement from Ringling Bros., and we encourage other circuses to move to animal-free shows. The evidence is clear that in the circumstances of a traveling show, it is not possible to provide these animals with the environment and facilities they need to maintain health and well-being."

One of the most compelling cases for removing animals from the circus is the evidence of big cats being mistreated.

Jorge Saenz / Associated Press

Lions and tigers are featured attractions in many circuses around the world — but they suffer tremendously in the stress of captivity, forced performance, and life on the road. Below are just a handful of facts about what big cats endure in the circus.

1. Cubs are removed from their mothers months — and sometimes years — before they would wean themselves in the wild in order to make them behave more submissively toward humans.

2. Witnesses from Animal Defense International saw and photographed a baby tiger being smashed in the face in order to make him "behave."

3. For every performing lion or tiger, 30 lions or tigers are destroyed because they don't have the look or temperament for training.

4. The wheelbarrow used to transport meat to the tigers for feeding was reportedly the same one used to haul sawdust and hay contaminated with animal waste, according to a report by a former employee.

5. A Chicago animal inspection revealed that tigers used in the shows were transported to and from performances in rolling cages and that there were no practice performances, meaning that the only exercise the tigers received was during shows.

6. One report by Animal Defenders International revealed that tigers spend between 75% and 99% of their time in cramped 6.5-foot-by-8-foot cages.

7. A Marin Humane Society report revealed that the tigers' cages had no protection from the sun and were not large enough for the tigers to turn around completely.

8. The same report noted that there were often times when the tigers had no access to water.

Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press

9. A tiger trainer with Ringling Bros. testified that five tigers that were not part of the show were never let out of their transport cages or given exercise opportunities.

10. When big cats run into the ring with what looks like enthusiasm, they are actually running in fear of their handlers who bang on the cages and cage tunnels with iron bars and scream at them.

11. Even though tigers are solitary animals, they are housed in groups in the circus.

12. This is potentially the reason that a tiger named Sylva got into a bloody fight with another tiger and suffered numerous injuries and was sent away to an unknown location rather than being treated by a veterinarian.

13. When tigers and lions were housed together in a British circus, a lioness named Narla was seriously injured by a tiger and then circus workers attempted to hide her from safety inspectors who only detected her after they saw video footage from the inspection, revealing how easy it is to cover up abuse.

14. When big cats can no longer perform, they are often sold to the highest bidder. This means that taxidermists, canned hunt businesses, and illegal animal parts traders often end up with the animals.

There are many ways to take action against cruelty in the circus so that big cats and other animals can lead their lives free from abuse and fear.

Lu Chuanquan / Associated Press

To organize an event, fundraiser, or to campaign for a ban in your area, please visit Stop Circus Suffering and learn how to get involved.

For more information on cruelty in the circus, visit PETA's resource page here.

To support or visit an animal-free circus, you can find one here.

Animal Defenders International was misstated as Animal Defense International in an earlier version of this article.