HSUS investigation pulls the curtain back on tiger abuse by traveling circus trainer

By on May 18, 2017 with 18 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

A new HSUS undercover investigation reveals the mistreatment of eight tigers featured in Ryan Easley’s ShowMe Tigers act – a traveling circus gig that is contracted out to branded circuses. It’s painful to watch a grown man whipping a majestic tiger as the world’s most powerful predator flinches and cowers in fear. It’s a coercive training technique used to force tigers to perform demeaning and often difficult tricks.

This is the backstory that animal-based circuses don’t want you to see. It’s the reality for tigers and other wild animals trapped in these operations. Our investigator spent three weeks working for Easley, including nine days on the road with the act that has toured with Carden Circus and performed for several Shrine circuses.

As you can see in our undercover video, the tigers endure a great deal of trauma. Even a layperson can recognize the signs of stress, including cringing and bolting from Easley (who uses the stage name Ryan Holder) when he raises his whip and stick. The tigers squint and flatten their ears back, because they’ve felt the lash before. Their shoulders are hunched, defeated. It is simply unethical to force one of the world’s most powerful and extraordinary predators to hop around on her hind legs as a Michael Jackson tune blares over the loudspeakers.

The HSUS has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which prohibits the kind of abuse witnessed by our investigator, and is urging the agency to investigate ShowMe Tigers and to take swift enforcement action for violations of federal law.

Increasingly, circuses are recognizing that they have a broken business model that, because of its inherent cruelty, is operating on borrowed time. This week Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – the political protector of the industry — will perform for the last time. Ringling attributed its decision to declining attendance and stronger regulations that safeguard captive wildlife. But it also recognized how difficult it is to fool the public about what goes on behind the scenes. Abusive circus acts teach nothing about the normal behaviors of these exceptional animals. What they do teach children and others is that cruelty is acceptable, and wild animals can be bullied into doing stunts that are silly and confusing.

At the ShowMe Tigers act, the trainer holds back on obvious abuses during the live performance. It’s out of the circus ring that the more intense punishment occurs. Our investigator videotaped a practice session that showed, among other things, a traumatized tiger being whipped at 31 times in less than two minutes because she refused to get off a pedestal. Whip marks would suddenly appear on a tiger’s fur during both the practice session and live performances, confirming that the whip was making physical contact and not just being used as a threat.

What’s particularly stark for me is the difference between how circuses treat tigers and how legitimate sanctuaries treat captive cats. At The Fund for Animals’ Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, and other sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, tigers rescued from captive situations love to swim and rest on elevated platforms and lie on cool grass. They chase and tear apart enrichment items provided by dedicated caretakers. Staff specialists go to great lengths to ensure that the sanctuary’s tigers stay physically active and mentally stimulated. In contrast, Easley’s tigers go through the same mind-numbing cycle each day: eating, sleeping, pacing, urinating, defecating in the approximately 13 square feet of floor space for each tiger kept in transport cages, and suffering through eight-minute performances up to three times each day. Once the act hits the road, the tigers live exclusively in tiny, barren transport cages. Our investigator observed other forms of neglect, too, such as lack of protection from bitterly cold weather, a nutritionally deficient diet, and failure to provide veterinary care to a tiger with a raw, open wound near her eye.

We’re seeing states as well as small and large communities taking steps to protect wild animals from abuse and suffering at the circus. In some cases, legislators are banning cruel training tools while others are passing outright bans on the use of various species in traveling shows. We are leading efforts in states and cities across the country to end the era of captive wild animal acts. We’re ready to work with anyone interested in pursuing a circus ordinance in their community. Please contact wildlife@humanesociety.org to request a circus toolkit.

Ask circuses to do away with wild animal acts »

Investigations, Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Amy BeachAm says:

    Many thanks for the work you do to put an end to circuses-which is just another word for abuse. It’s time that ALL of these end.

  2. Brian says:

    I always hope the cats overcome their fear of the “training” abuses and rip their torturers to shreds. This would include, especially, Ryan Easley of ShowMe Tigers. It would only be right, fair dinkum.

    • Kay says:

      Brian, I agree. I really wish all of these tigers would turn on him, all at once, and literally rip him to shreds. His whip would be totally useless at that point.

    • Lindsay says:

      Wishing death on another person.. what a class act you are. These animals are loved and taken better care of than most humans and if one were to go visit, they would see this first hand. It’s easy to edit a video to make it look how you want it to and make up lies, but it’s another thing get out from behind your keyboard and go make your own opinion.

      • Zev says:

        A tiger belongs to the wild and free. Wip marks starvation confined in feces coated tiny cage is hell. And some of them get tired of it. They go mad and attack trainer and audience he eve shows on animal attacks. Working with these abused animals is hard they may never recover mentally. They bash their teeth and can’t enjoy the grass or the ponds when provide for at the zoo at work at. They have so much physical and mental assault on their bodies. We euthanized most of them. Maybe a few might have a second chance. Coming from being abused. Hurting anything is not love. The tiger we call thorn never felt love and would not eat. The beatings and his broken spirit was too hard to bare. It was decided to end his suffering since he never came to play with the other cats. We dedicated a memorial at the park and education the public on why we must we protect these endangered cats. Not a day goes by that I miss touching his fur or wrapping up his damaged paws. He was so afraid when I was supposed to be afraid of him. The other keepers told me he came a circus. He know never of trees and feared freedom from confinement and humans. I wish I could erase the evil that he endured since a club stolen from his dead mother.

  3. Angela Grammatico says:

    What can we do to stop this or all animals need to be free and out of cages circuses and zoos

    • Zev says:

      They need a sanctuary or a good zoo like ours who has a strong $ support. These animals can’t hunt and have no idea what to do on the wild. They need therapy and rehab and most of them can be so aggressive towards others cats. It’s not so easy plus there is the black market of exotic animal trade. Declawed and scared animals killed for trophies this is tigers and other wild life in America folks. What u can do is bring awareness and educate the public

  4. Irene Polchey says:

    We need to stop all these bullies from the abuse they inflict on these noble animals. They all need to be free. It’s criminal.

  5. Elisa says:

    this is absurd. Ryan Easley takes care of his animals better than any other human I know. He cares more about those animals more than he does 90% of the humans he knows. I support him fully.

    • Tracey Connell says:

      Bulls***. You’re obviously a circus freak yourself. Videos don’t lie. Get a real job and stuff living off the misfortunes of others you slug

  6. Zev says:

    You knew well it’s not about the cats but$.
    End this suffering the tigers are dying. We will not have anymore. As a keeper I have what performance has done to these beautiful creatures. Tiny cages and beatings is not love and not safe for the audience. In memory of a tiger named thorn whom never felt what it was like to be a real tiger. Stop the violence and save our cats before they are gone forever. Remember the Tasmanian tiger?

  7. Zev says:

    We have to stop forcing stupid tricks on these animal. They don’t get paid. At the zoo I work at our goal is to show animals in natural habitat not jumping thru rings of fire or jumping out of water hence the film black fish. Traveling show have done this for many long years. I think they have made too much money on them. They should’ve had a retirement plan. We get more praise and donations by allowing our cats be cats. Our goal is to conserve and protect species. Stop the black markets of exotic pet trade and road side shows. These cats deserve their freedom. Raising a cub whose mother came from such chaos. She was thin and scared and has to take meds for her trauma and too tiny we didn’t know she was pregnant. We were concerned about the meds affecting the fetus but little Titus was born healthy. We were relieved and mom and club are doing well.

    • Evelyn Lennon says:

      It’s the same story everywhere, people abusing animals for the almighty dollar. When anything is abused, it’s very hard for them to acclimate in the world that was supposed to be for them. They don’t know how to act themselves or interact with others. Their spirit is broken, and it’s very hard to bring them back from such despair Thank you for being relentless in your efforts to end cruelty for all.

  8. Danita L Wells says:

    My name is Danita wells if I give some money can I get a shirt or bag of something

  9. Allison says:

    Zev euthinizing is just wrong

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