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Fairs, Circuses, and Traveling Shows Profit at the Expense of Animal Welfare

September 25, 2019

Let’s get real: If you can attend a show and see an animal being forced to engage in unnatural behaviors (especially by being poked, prodded, or whipped) and walk away feeling good, then you aren’t actually thinking about what you are seeing. We understand; it’s cool to see a “wild animal” doing all kinds of kooky, amazing feats, and it’s zero percent fun to think about what you’re actually watching: abuse.

Yes, traveling shows are legal, but that doesn’t change what you are seeing. The tigers or lions you see responding to the commands of the trainer are doing so out of fear. When a trainer uses a whip or a prod to control them during the act, they respond because they know the pain that tool can inflict. A tiger trainer named Wade Burck who worked for the Ringling Bros. was once quoted describing the “aggressive” methods he had to use during training because when it comes to tigers, “they aren’t capable of thinking like I do.” A tiger is a wild, dangerous animal, no matter if it was taken from its natural habitat or raised in captivity. In order to get the animal to perform the awesome stunts audiences get to observe, it has to be put in its place by a person who is more frightening than it is.

For the people who make a living off the suffering of these poor animals, there are other modifications that can bend them to their will. Thurston, a white tiger who lives at the Refuge, was used in a magic show and has been struggling with lasting psychological trauma, as well as physical pain from being declawed and having his teeth filed down to make him “safer” to work with. Drugging animals is another common tactic used to make them more compliant.

We were recently alerted to this type of abuse taking place in our own backyard. The Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair made the decision to use “Nergers Tigers” (also known as “Nerger’s Splendid Tigers”) to draw attention to their event. The Nerger’s tiger show has been taking place multiple times a day since Friday, September 20, and will continue through Saturday, September 28.

We shared information on social media regarding the Nerger’s history and reached out to fair officials, as well as local media. It was disheartening and left us sick when we found that fair officials showed no interest in reconsidering their decision and the media seemed more interested in the cheeky comments of those profiting from the show than the actual education we were attempting to provide.

Even worse, our friends at Jen’s Kitty Rehab planned to hand out information advocating for all cats, big and small. They were told by fair officials that they could not discuss anything “tiger-related” or have any “tiger-related” literature at their booth.

We received painful video footage of a September 21st performance at the Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair that shows the tigers being prompted to perform through the use of whips. The trainers used prods to the face and body with the whip or handle to ‘encourage’ the animals to complete each trick upon command. At one point, they were forced to jump through a flaming hoop, something we would even be scared to do. One tiger tried to resist, but of course, had no choice, which resulted in him slipping and falling onto the platform he was being forced to leap to.

As heartbreaking as the situation is and for as much resistance as we have encountered, we have also had a positive outpouring of action from our wonderful supporters, who are rallying to do the right thing for the animals. Multiple people outside of our organization have sent emails, letters, and made phone calls to fair officials, state legislators, and even the Humane Society of the United States has reached out to the fair without any prompting from us. One supporter has organized a peaceful protest outside the fairgrounds for Saturday, September 28. People who can’t attend are writing letters, contacting others, and even donating to provide snacks and drinks for the event! We have received messages from people who are now advocating for bills to protect big cats in captivity and who are contacting fair boards in their own areas ahead of time to request that they make ethical choices regarding the type of entertainment they use!

It all goes to remind us that we (“we” as in not just TCWR, but YOU!) are making a difference! We are winning! The animals are winning! For every hateful collective who unabashedly cares about profit over protection, there are hundreds more who are willing to come together and move towards a positive future that will be life-changing for tigers, lions, bears, and all others trapped in the entertainment industry.

It’s 2019, it’s time to stop using wild animals for props and playthings. You can take action today by asking your state representatives to support the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (TEAPSPA, H.R. 2863), which will prohibit the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling performances.

For more information regarding what truly goes on behind the scenes of traveling shows, feel free to read this blog post:

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