HUGO, OKLAHOMA — With the final curtain call for Ringling Bros., the fight to eliminate circus animal abuse has made significant progress, but it is far from over.
An undercover investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States has uncovered a horrific case of ongoing animal abuse to a circus tiger named Tora, under the care of trainer Ryan Easley. The report released on May 18 details a range of cruelties inflicted upon Tora and other tigers over a three-week span from December 28, 2016 to January 18, 2017.
The travelling act, called ShowMe Tigers, is headquartered in Hugo, Oklahoma, where Easley spends time breaking his big cats, mentally, so they perform on command. Easley takes the tigers on the road, as part of acts for Carden Circus, Shrine Circuses, Kelly Miller Circus and for a season last year at Circus World Museum.
The tigers were observed being whipped repeatedly to demonstrate unnatural behaviors like walking on their hind legs. In one training session, the undercover investigator witnessed Tora being lashed 31 times in under two minutes. She was not provided veterinary care for a raw open gash on the side of her face. Previously, the USDA cited Easley for failing to provide her medical attention for a laceration on her ribcage.
While on the road, the tigers were locked in their 13-square foot transport cages, where they ate, slept, urinated, and defecated. When they weren’t performing, these cages were their world, exclusively. No exercise time was allotted. Not only are the cages extremely restrictive, they are unheated, with a mere inch of bedding separating the tigers from cold steel in temperatures that drop well below freezing. Starving the tigers was another method Easley utilized, not feeding them at all on five out of 22 days, and rarely providing them their necessary dietary supplements.
In a complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Humane Society has detailed these violations of the Animal Welfare Act, in hopes a federal investigation will follow.