Wild Animal Acts Are Becoming a Thing of the Past, but Some Circuses Insist on Continuing Their Cruel Ways

The New York City Council just passed a ban on traveling wild-animal acts. Ringling Bros. has shuttered, following a decade of falling ticket sales. Numerous Shrine and other circuses are reconsidering animal acts. Countries around the world have also banned traveling wild-animal acts.


But it's business as usual for UniverSoul Circus, which has just begun a summer run at FedExField, the home of the Washington Redskins. UniverSoul's stubborn insistence on featuring acts with records of animal abuse and public endangerment is why laws like the one New York City just passed—on the heels of UniverSoul shows in Brooklyn and Queens—are so important and should be enacted across the country.

During a recent inspection of UniverSoul, officials documented that the circus was using wounded animals, including an elephant with a circular wound on his ankle—likely from a bullhook, elephant handlers' weapon of choice—a zebra with a wounded nose, and a camel with a leg laceration. A second camel's foot and ankle were abscessed, and the elephants' feet were bruised.

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UniverSoul Circus was found to be using a wounded elephant, zebra and camel. (image: PETA)

In addition, the tiger exhibitor UniverSoul has used for years is a chronic violator of animal-welfare laws and has shown "blatant disregard" for the law. Big cats have home ranges of up to 400 miles in the wild, but those used by UniverSoul have been confined to tiny transport cages "24 hours/day 7 days a week" for weeks and even months on end. They've also been denied veterinary care, put at risk of injury and strangulation, and fed a deficient diet.

UniverSoul also endangers the public. Tigers have repeatedly escaped from this circus, including in Landover Hills, Maryland, where, during a show attended by elementary school students, one tiger attacked another, escaped, ran loose, and attacked an elephant. In another incident, a tiger with UniverSoul escaped from a cage, climbed onto a car to jump over a fence, and was found in an alley. In addition, multiple people have lost parts of their fingers to tigers with UniverSoul. Despite these extremely dangerous incidents and numerous citations for unsafe handling, this circus has been allowed to stay in business. 

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A caged tiger at UniverSoul Circus. No way to treat any animal. (image: PETA)

Big cats are apex predators who can easily kill humans. Consider the incident in which lions fatally mauled a woman at the National Zoo, leaving her body so ravaged that her face was virtually unrecognizable and she had no fingerprints. In another incident, a tiger killed a handler in front of 200 children at a circus. In yet another, a tiger mauled a trainer in front of 400 people during a show, resulting in wounds requiring dozens of stitches.

Zebras have also repeatedly escaped from UniverSoul, including just last year. As Jared Diamond notes, "A kick from a zebra can kill," and zebras "are responsible for more injuries to American zookeepers each year than any other animal." These animals are, he says, "[o]ften bad tempered … and once they bite, they tend not to let go." Even circus veterinarians warn that zebras "can be highly volatile, with a propensity for intense and unpredictable reactions that can lead to severe physical trauma[,] …. major property damage, multiple injured animals and humans, and even fatalities." At a recent legislative hearing to consider banning traveling wild-animal acts, UniverSoul admitted that these escapes endanger the public.

The animals also pose disease risks. UniverSoul uses elephants who have been exposed to tuberculosis (TB), a potentially fatal disease that's transmissible between elephants and humans—even without direct contact, since it's an airborne contagion. Seven people recently contracted the disease after being around infected elephants at a U.S. zoo. In 2014, New York City officials required UniverSoul to keep elephants out of its acts after the circus failed to provide current TB tests. Dallas also recently prohibited elephants used by UniverSoul from performing because they tested reactive for TB. And Michigan cautioned that these elephants should not be on the road, because of their risk for transmitting TB. Yet UniverSoul has hauled them into Maryland and is exhibiting them to the public.

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UniverSoul uses elephants who have been exposed to tuberculosis. (image: PETA)

Circuses that phased out wild-animal acts around the time Ringling's ticket sales began falling a decade ago are thriving today, making it clear that the show can go on without animal abuse and public endangerment. Until other jurisdictions follow New York City's lead and ban these outmoded acts, folks who care about animals—or just their own health and safety—should steer clear of UniverSoul Circus.

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(image: PETA)

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