When the Mexican Congress passed legislation last December to ban the use of animals in circuses across the country, it was meant as a humane response to widespread reports of animal mistreatment. But now the government and the country’s zoos are dealing with the consequences of that decision: What to do with all those circus animals?
The law does not take effect until June 8, but many circuses have already shut down, and their owners say they are worried about the fate of some 2,000 tigers, elephants, giraffes, zebras and other exotic beasts who are now out of work and too expensive to keep.
"We are waiting for a response from the government about what will happen to our animals," Armando Cedeño, president of the national association of circus owners and performers, told Reuters. He added that there are approximately 4,000 circus animals in the country – double government figures.
The nationwide ban on circus animals, which came after Mexico City and six states in the country passed similar bans, stipulates that such animals should remain in their natural habitats. The law set fines for violations and required circuses to submit lists of the wildlife they possessed, which would then be made available to zoos interested in taking the animals.
The problem is that finding a natural habitat – or even a relatively suitable one – is a difficult task. Even with some privately-owned zoos offering to help the government, Mexico City's director of zoos and wildlife, Juan Arturo Rivera, said it was "not feasible" for so many new animals that were raised in such a different environment to be incorporated into zoos and have them maintain decent living conditions for the animals.
The animals' living conditions are generally terrible right now as circus owners, zoos and the government figure out what to do with the creatures. Several circus owners who have properties near Mexico City are housing their jaguars, zebras, horses and camels in cages next to trailers filled with circus equipment.
One animal tamer, 45-year-old Bruno Raffo, told Reuters that he is sticking around to tend to the 13 tigers that were under his care. It costs around $194 a day to feed them, not including his own salary and the veterinary bills from periodic check-ups.
"I'm going to stay here with the animals to see what can be done," Raffo said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.