Full Title Name:  Behind a Glass, Darkly

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Jennifer L. Tilden Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2006 Primary Citation:  2 Journal of Animal Law 143 (2006)

As wild populations of big cats continue to decline precipitously, concerns about the ethical and environmental considerations of keeping cats for entertainment have increased exponentially. The plight of the big cat has been brought forcibly into the international media spotlight following high profile incidents like the tiger attack on Roy Horn at Las Vegas’ Mirage Casino. However, for every big cat whose instinct makes the national news, many suffer in silence, sacrificed to entertain the masses. Often, this cruelty to animals is rationalized under the wide net of “education,” since many people still believe there is valuable information to be gained from viewing animals trapped behind bars.

Behind a Glass, Darkly


Jennifer Logan Tilden *


To insult someone we call him ‘bestial.’

  For deliberate cruelty and nature, ‘human’ might be the greater insult .” [1]

- Isaac Asimov



I. Introduction


As wild populations of big cats continue to decline precipitously, concerns about the ethical and environmental considerations of keeping cats for entertainment have increased exponentially.   The plight of the big cat has been brought forcibly into the international media spotlight following high profile incidents like the tiger attack on Roy Horn at Las Vegas’ Mirage Casino.   However, for every big cat whose instinct makes the national news, many suffer in silence, sacrificed to entertain the masses. Often, this cruelty to animals is rationalized under the wide net of “education,” since many people still believe there is valuable information to be gained from viewing animals trapped behind bars.


A. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

In July 2004, a two-year-old male lion named Clyde died in the Mojave Desert. The animal was contained for six hours in a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus boxcar traveling from Arizona to California.   High temperatures in the cars were recorded at a whopping 109°F [2] , but the animals in the cars were not provided with water or adequate ventilation.   A trainer who complained that Clyde was looking ill was ignored by the conductor and Ringling Brothers employees. [3]   Clyde died in Arizona, which requires a one-year renewable exhibiting license for big cats. [4]   This license may only be held by exhibitors also holding two years’ Wildlife Holding License.

            Clyde was not the Greatest Show on Earth’s first animal victim.   According to Circuses.com, elephants are routinely tortured with bull hooks by handlers.   California Humane Society workers charged Mark Gebel, a Ringling elephant trainer, with cruelty after he used his bull hook to inflict a large wound to the shoulder of an elephant. [5]   A baby elephant had to be euthanized after toppling off a display pedestal and breaking its legs; another drowned in a pond before its frantic mother could reach it.   Sabre, an Arabian horse, was caught on tape by a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) investigator dying during a live performance; [6] two other horses died after being struck by a train outside Dayton, Ohio.

            In 2001, an endangered Bengal named Jasmine was euthanized due to a kidney condition; Barnum and Bailey did not make this information public. [7]   Another endangered Bengal was also put down off the books the same year for facial and ear tumors.   And, most appallingly, in 1999 a Ringling handler fatally shot a caged tiger named Arnie after the animal snapped during a grueling photo shoot.   Arnie was also an endangered Bengal; there are estimated to be only 3,000 of these majestic animals remaining in the wild.

            A suit brought against Ringling Brothers in 2001 by the ASPCA and the Animal Welfare Institute, alleging abuse of captive endangered Asian elephants, was dismissed from the district court for the District of Columbia for lack of standing under the Endangered Species Act.   The court found the petitioners failed to prove sufficient injury in fact, and dismissed the suit without prejudice, but also without any aid to the animals who were the subjects of the action. [8]


B. The Lion Habitat of the MGM Grand


The MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas, Nev., spent nine million dollars in 2003 to install a so-called “Natural Lion Habitat,” allowing tourists to observe lions in a Plexiglas enclosure. [9]   The enclosure covers 5,000 square feet, and is immediately adjacent to the noisy casino floor and a lion-themed gift shop.   The habitat contains concrete rocks, fake trees, and lion “toys,” including large beach-style balls.   The Grand’s Lion Habitat comprises the only free animal display on the strip (the Mirage, which houses Siegfried and Roy’s famous white tigers, charges $12 for admission, Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef display costs $15.95 per person). [10]

            Visitors may have their pictures taken with four-month-old lion cubs at the habitat, encouraging the dangerous notion of big cats as cuddly pets.   Additionally, this glorification of cubs may lead to unhealthy breeding practices: many venues breed large numbers of cubs as crowd pleasers, but they are later sold to dealers, small zoos, and canned hunts when they outgrow their popularity.   Tourists may walk through an enclosure through the paddock to the Lion Habitat Gift Shop. The lions appear in six hour shifts six days a week.   When not on display, the MGM lions live on an 8.5-acre ranch, known as “The Cat House,” located 12 miles from the Strip. [11]   In the wild, the territory of an average pride is 40 to 50 square miles . [12]  

            The Grand maintains that lions are kept to allow people to see lions and increase awareness of big cat issues, and donates a portion of proceeds to big-cat charities.   Nevada law requires a state permit for the holding or transport of bobcats and mountain lions, but does not require a permit for other felines.   Nevada commercial licenses for exotic animal display average $100. [13]   Exhibitors must also carry a federal USDA Class C “exhibitors” license.   The MGM Grand qualifies as an exhibitor under the Animal Welfare Act, since the primary purpose of the Lion Habitat is exhibition, not breeding or sale. [14]


C. The New Jersey Tiger Lady


Until November of 2003, the bucolic suburb of Jackson Township, N.J, had the highest concentration of tigers per square mile in the world. [15]   Fifteen of these majestic cats are on display at Six Flags Great Adventure Theme Park, but an additional 24 were kept by a private citizen. Residents of metropolitan New York and Philadelphia remember the saga of the Tiger Lady of Jackson Township; Joan Byron-Marasek who ran the Tigers Only Preservation Society from her home on Route 537, housing 24 animals.   Tigers Only was open for approximately 21 years, nestled in the Pine Barrens region between Philadelphia and New York City.   One of her tigers, Marco, savaged her husband in 2002, leaving him in the hospital for a week.  

            In 1999, a 431-pound full-grown male tiger was shot by Department of Environmental Protection officials wandering near the preserve.   The tiger was destroyed by police before it entered a densely populated subdivision in Clarksville, N.J., nearly crossing busy Interstate 195.   Police were forced to shoot the animal after attempts to tranquilize the beast failed. [16]   The cat was never proven to belong to Byron-Marasek. [17]   Opponents of the preserve note, however, that there aren’t many other places in North Jersey a tiger could escape from.   In light of the escape, the state of New Jersey failed to renew Byron-Marasek’s permit to keep the animals in 1999.   She appealed this ruling, but her appeals were finally exhausted in 2002. [18]   During the course of litigation, Marasek went through seven different lawyers. [19]

            Marasek denies accusations of abuse and maltreatment, and claims one of her tigers lived to be 23; average lifespan in captivity is 20 years, wild tigers tend to live only up to 15. [20]   Many of Byron-Marasek’s tigers seem to meet a miserable fate.   During various state inspections, the property was rumored to be infested with rats.   There was evidence tigers were attempting to dig their way out from under the fences surrounding the property, and escape into the surrounding forest. [21]   Diamond the tiger lost a leg in a fight with Marco (the same tiger who attacked her husband) and had to be put down.   One Christmas Eve, Marco killed another male during a fight.   And two of Byron-Marasek’s tigers died of poisoning after consuming road kill deer, which Marasek believes may have been contaminated by antifreeze. [22]

            In 2004, the 21 tigers living at the Preserve were removed from the property and sent to live in the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, Tex., at an estimated cost of $300,000. [23]   Upon arrival, however, three of the tigers had to be euthanized; one had an inoperable brain tumor, one with a kidney infection, and one male (thought to be the one who attacked Jan Byron-Marasek) for aggressiveness.   Another male was mutilating his own foot, necessitating amputation of the leg. [24]   A neurological defect keeps one of the animals from holding his head up. [25] Four of the tigers suffered from coccidiosis, a parasite that lives in the intestines of animals subjected to filthy conditions. [26]

            Asked for a comment, Chris Cutter of International Fund for Animal Welfare (who helped move the animals to Texas), said "Keeping a tiger in your back yard is like keeping a kitten in a suitcase.” [27]   New Jersey does not issue permits for potentially dangerous species unless you are an exhibitor, educator, or dealer. Marasek claimed her tigers were held for educational purposes--one of her males, Jaipur, was touted as the Guinness Book’s largest Siberian tiger in captivity. [28]   Marasek’s animal theatrical permit was revoked on 3 May 1999 after the preserve failed numerous inspections and Marasek failed to provide adequate information about the animals’ touring schedules. [29]  


D. Roy Horn, the Secret Garden and Others


Perhaps the most famous big cat incident to date was the onstage mauling of Vegas showman Roy Horn by one of Siegfried and Roy’s famous white tigers on October 3, 2003.   The tiger--named Montecore--bit Horn on the arm during a performance, causing Horn to strike the animal repeatedly on the muzzle with a microphone. Montecore then grabbed Horn and dragged him offstage “like a rag doll.” [30]   Stagehands were finally able to deflect the tiger by spraying it with a fire extinguisher.

            As a result of the attack, Horn suffered critical blood loss from injuries to the arm, neck, and head.   Cerebral hemorrhaging necessitated a decompressive hemicraniectomy--the removal of a portion of his skull, which was transplanted into his abdomen to avoid rejection upon replacement. [31]   Days after the attack, Horn also suffered a stroke as a result of the attack (the duo claim the stroke was caused by Horn’s blood pressure medication). [32]   Critics have charged that Siegfried and Roy have downplayed the extent of his injuries to placate concerns about the safety of animal acts.   As of February 2005, the Siegfried and Roy show at the Mirage is still cancelled indefinitely.

            According to the Big Cat Rescue, since 1990 there have been 151 incidents involving big cat attacks.   Thirteen people have been killed in these attacks, including two children; and many more have been mauled. As a result of these attacks, 54 big cats have been destroyed. [33]   As recently as 29 January 2005, an endangered tiger in Sioux Falls, S.D., was at risk of being euthanized to be decapitated and tested for rabies after the animal bit a man who reached through the chain link fence surrounding its Great Plains Zoo enclosure. The only available test for rabies is lethal, and no vaccination against the disease is approved for non-domesticated animals. [34]

            The proper maintenance of tigers is of particular concern to biologists and environmentalists.   Big Cat Rescue estimates that there are only 1,576 wild tigers remaining in India, on 27 reserves in 11 states. [35]   They count another 1,098 others in captivity, of which 330 are in the United States.   The Humane Society of the United States places the number far higher, estimating between five and seven thousand in captivity in America (roughly the same number thought to remain in the wild), with only 10 percent of those in American captivity in zoos and sanctuaries. [36] Siegfried and Roy have a total of 63 lions and tigers in their personal collection, mostly genetically recessive and over-bred white lions and tigers.


II. Licensing Requirements: A Comparative Look


Much information may be gathered on the care and keeping of wild animals by examining the requirements for their welfare in other nations.   While not the most stringent in their licensing requirements for the display of wild animals, the American system is far from the worst, even among industrialized nations.   The differing systems utilized by Ireland, India, Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada and United States, serve to shed light on both the strengths and weaknesses of the American Animal Welfare Act.


A. The Republic of Ireland


The Republic of Ireland currently has no licensing requirements whatsoever regarding the ownership and display of exotic animals. [37]   As the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) notes on their website, “[y]ou are required by law to hold a license to own a dog, but not a tiger!”   The ISPCA has proposed a two-tier licensing scheme for the keeping of exotic animals, allowing one type of permit for non-dangerous species like macaws and sugar gliders and another for dangerous animals like lions and tigers.

            The ISPCA speculates that, on average, big cats being transported around Ireland in menageries and mini-zoos have approximately 2.5 square meters of space, or less.   An undercover report revealed that cats were only allowed out of these cages for exercise less than 10 percent of their lives. [38]   There is no inspection system for animals in zoos or circuses in Ireland, and, at the present time, there is no pending legislation on the subject. [39]


B. India


All zoos in India are established under a central authority known as the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), which administers a law known as the Recognition of Zoo Rules (1992).   The purpose of zoos is clearly defined within the statute: “the primary objective of operating any zoo shall be the conservation of wildlife and no zoo shall take up any activity that is inconsistent with the objective.” [40]   All facilities showing live animals must be closed at least one day out of the week. [41]   Animals which are sick or injured may not be displayed.   The law outlines required staff, on-site veterinary requirements, proportion of display to visitor amenities, and landscaping.   Each zoo must have a graveyard on site; larger zoos must also have a crematory. [42]

            The Recognition of Zoo Rules requires annual submission of records on all animals held within the zoo, including birth, death, and transfer records.   These files must be submitted to the CZA by 30 April of each year.   Death records must include the results of post-mortem analysis.   Within two months of the end of each fiscal year, each zoo must furnish their annual business report to the CZA, and make this document available to the public at a reasonable cost. [43]   Zoos must also put forward to the CZA a long-term master plan, laying out strategy for the next six years. [44]

            Zoos in India are divided into four classes depending upon size and the types of animals on display; licensing requirements vary according to class.   These classes are determined primarily by area (measured in hectares), and are labeled large, medium, small, and mini.   Class size also may reflect the number of endangered species exhibited, and average visitor attendance per year. [45]

            Indian animal welfare law is based on five precepts, knows as the five freedoms:

1.        Freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition

2.        Freedom from thermal and physical discomfort

3.        Freedom from pain, injury and disease

4.        Freedom to express normal behaviour

5.        Freedom from fear and distress. [46]

            Indian law notes that it is not acceptable to house carnivores in the “concrete grottos” common in older zoos. The use of concrete or “gunite,” a molded concrete, should be avoided whenever possible to avoid animal boredom and sores arising from constant exposure to unyielding surfaces. [47] When designing enclosures for animals, the following questions should be addressed:

First, how much space does the animal actually need to facilitate engagement in natural movement patterns and behaviours?

Second, how much space does an animal need to feel secure; so that it's (sic) fight or flight response isn't triggered or to escape from assault or the threat of assault by cagemates?

Third, what are the consequences to the animal of not providing an appropriate amount of space? [48]

            The legislation notes that zoos should move towards acting in a conservation, not entertainment, capacity, and act as rescue centers for orphaned animals. [49]   Environmental enrichment must be provided to all captive animals, including toys and furniture like trees, root balls, pipes, climbing apparatus, puzzle feeders, and sprinklers. [50]   Vertical space should be appropriately utilized, especially for animals with natural climbing instinct, like leopards.

            The Indian high court in Delhi has recently banned the certain animals, including lions and tigers, from use in circuses.   The government is now in the process of creating animal rescues where lions and tigers currently in circuses may live out their lives. [51]   Unfortunately, the state Forest Minister Jogesh Burman suggested at one point the banned animals be given to zoos or released into the wild, a potential disaster when quasi-tame, dependent animals are returned to the forests and ecosystem. [52]


C. Great Britain


The treatment of animals in zoos and circuses in England is covered under the Zoo Licensing Act of 1981. [53]   This regulation is administered by an independent body known as the Zoo Forum.   The Zoo Licensing Act was amended in 2002 to further the British commitment to biodiversity and conservation, and to come into compliance with the 1992 European Council Directive on zoo animals. [54]   Prior to the grant of a license, public notice must be given within the proposed community through newspaper or other media, identifying the types of animals to be kept, numbers of staff, and the projected effect on motor vehicle and tourist traffic in the area. [55]   Licenses under the Zoo Act are originally granted for four years, but can then be renewed for six years if the facility meets the standards outlined within the law. [56]   The Act requires records of birth, death (including cause of death), animals acquired, animals sold, and the health of the animals within the collection. [57]

            Zoos in Great Britain are subject to regular inspection by local authorities. [58]   At least two inspections are mandatory, with 28 day’s notice provided. [59]   Special investigations may also be carried out if a facility becomes suspect, or for zoos which have been closed. In the event of failure to meet Act requirements, licenses may be revoked and fines assessed against a facility.   Within a month of the review, the inspector must send a copy of his or her report to the owner/operator and allow them to comment on the contents thereof. [60]

            Under the Zoo Act, animals may only be handled by trained professionals and authorized staff. Staff is prohibited from smoking near the animals or their food.   British standards regarding space requirements for animals on display are excellent.   Requirements include both space and “furniture” within cages, attempting to meet the psychological needs of the animals. [61]   The layouts of cages are controlled so that predator and prey will not be within eyesight of one another to avoid undue stress on the animals.


D. New Zealand


New Zealand has ratified some of the most comprehensive animal welfare legislation in the world.   The registration process to become a licensed animal facility is more thorough than anywhere else in the world, and requires both a 5-10 year animal collection plan and a contingency plan outlining the fate of the animals should the facility fail. [62]   Registration and inspection are both annual in New Zealand, coupled with periodic inspection.

            Prior to the grant of a license, the local municipality where the proposed facility would be located must grant permission for the license. [63]   At the cost of the applicant, a licensed vet must review each license application for viability.   If he or she feels it is necessary, the vet may consult other experts also at the applicant’s expense, and may choose to veto the facility’s ability to keep one or more species. [64]

            The standards for animal accommodation are strictly outlined under New Zealand law.   Legislation requires a high level of hygiene in all enclosures, and conditions are outlined for each species in regards to the following categories:

1. behavioural requirements of individuals (i.e. swimming, climbing, grooming, territoriality);

2. behavioural requirements of social groups (i.e. size/sex ratios, seasonal changes, hierarchies, compatibilities, need to escape conflict);

3. physical requirements (i.e. exercise, shelter, individual cover, territories, ventilation);

4. psychological requirements (i.e. intellect, adaptability, timidity, aggressiveness);

5. reproductive requirements (reproductive control must be incorporated);

6. zoographic requirements (i.e. expected life span, rate of population increase). [65]


E. Canada , Exclusive of Nova Scotia\


Each province in Canada is free to set its own space requirements for the keeping of exotic animals.   Most require a license to keep exotic animals. British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba each set requirements by species or group. Saskatchewan forbids the tethering of any captive animal, and, like New Zealand, requires that the local municipality agree to a facility before a license may be granted.   Each facility within the province must provide a full accounting of all animals within its possession, along with a description of all sales, deaths, purchases, and transfers yearly. [66]   Manitoba requires periodic inspections by representatives of the Crown. [67]   Newfoundland outlines specifics required for enclosures including surface space, volume, height, den requirements, exercise equipment, and non-drinking water requirements. [68]


F. Nova Scotia


Nova Scotia has begun to develop extensive plans for the keeping of animals in captivity, including provisions for the mental well-being of the creatures.

            Two months prior to arriving in Nova Scotia, all traveling animal acts must submit an application to the Director of Wildlife at the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.   Included within this plan must be lists of all tricks an animal must perform if it is employed within entertainment, health certificates, lists of construction materials, sizes of animal containment facilities, and documentation that trainers understand the level of animal care required within the province.

            Many animals are excluded from use in circuses and traveling menageries in Nova Scotia.   Nonperforming animals within a menagerie are not permitted for import, and must be relocated prior to the grant of a permit.   Hybrid animals, such as mules, ligers, tigons, and wholphins, are not allowed within circuses.   Reptiles (exclusive of large snakes), bears, pinnipeds (seals and similar), amphibians, fish, cetacea (whales and dolphins), and nonhuman primates are all banned from circuses.   Additionally, there are strong recommendations that bull elephants not be used within circus performances because of their tendency towards aggression.   All performing and traveling animals must be seen by a vet within six months of entering the province. [69]

            During transport of animals, Nova Scotia requires stops every two hours to check the health and well-being of animals in the convoy.   Convoys must stop at least 12 out of every 24 hours so the animals may rest, and fresh air must be provided for the animals as weather permits.   It is suggested that the transportation cages for big cats be fashioned from plastic-coated steel.   The cage must be of sufficient size that the lion or tiger be able to stand, turn, lie down, and stretch without touching the walls. [70]   Since male lions reach an overall length of 11 feet [71] and Siberian tigers may be more than 10 feet long, [72] these cages must be sizeable.

            When not on the road, big cats must be provided with the following living space (exclusive of additional exercise areas):


Minimum (Nova Scotian) Display Dimensions for Big Cats

Minimum floor space for one animal

20 m 2 or 215 ft 2

Floor space for each additional animal

10 m 2 or 105 ft 2

Minimum height

3.0 m or 10 ft.

Minimum width

3.6 m or 12 ft.


Tigers may be housed together if the particular animals interact well, but must be fed separately. [73]   Since lions naturally live within prides, interaction among lions is deemed essential, and lions should be housed together and allowed regular intraspecies interaction.   Lions must only be separated in cases of violence against certain individuals, such as male dominance action or lionesses in heat. [74]

            Cats must be able to feel dirt under their paws, and must have access to direct sunlight during daylight hours. [75]   Platforms must be available within the display to allow tigers and other climbers to exercise their natural instincts. [76]   Cat cages must be secured with double doors to prevent escape.   The public must be kept behind safety barriers at least two meters from the cage. [77]   To meet natural instinct and health needs, all big cats must be provided with bones weekly (for maintaining teeth and gums) and must have access to wood within their cages to sharpen their claws. [78]

            Specific standards are laid out for performing animals.   Big cats can be trained to sit on perches, shake hands, jump through hoops (but not flaming hoops), and run on planks. [79]   If the animal resists these tricks, it may not be forced to perform them.   “Unwillingness to perform” is met if the animal:

(i)                   “Initially refuses, or baulks at performing the behaviour

(ii)                 Attempts to please the trainer by performing an alternate behaviour

(iii)                Performs a displacement activity (such as grooming manoeuvre)

(iv)               Attempts to escape the proximity of the trainer.” [80]

In the interest of dignity, no animal may be dressed in any costume that “belittles the animal.” [81]


G. The United States


Under the current animal welfare regime in the United States, animals used for entertainment are protected under the Animal Welfare Act, [82] which is administered by the USDA.   Facilities such as Ringling Brothers, The Secret Garden, and Byron-Marasek are required to carry licenses under the AWA.   All of these facilities carry (or carried) Class “C” exhibitor licenses, which allow them to display animals and buy/sell only the number necessary to maintain a population in their facility:

(h) The term "exhibitor" means any person (public or private) exhibiting any animals . . . and such term includes carnivals, circuses, and zoos exhibiting such animals whether operated for profit or not; but such term excludes retail pet stores, organizations sponsoring and all persons participating in State and country fairs, livestock shows, rodeos, purebred dog and cat shows, and any other fairs or exhibitions intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences, as may be determined by the Secretary. [83]

            Unfortunately, animals outside of research facilities have very few direct regulations applied to their living conditions.   Circus animals, which are frequently within the channels of commerce as the circus moves from state to state, must maintain records of the animals they display [84] and humane standards in transport, including ventilation, water, and shelters from temperature extremes (which should have saved Clyde the lion). [85]   Periodic inspections of licensed facilities are also provided for, at least once a year. [86]   Violations of the Act may lead to suspension or revocation of the license and a civil penalty of not more than $2,500/per diem. [87]   Criminal penalties may include up to a year in prison, a fine of $2,500, or both. [88]

            Unfortunately, nearly all American animal welfare laws are engineering standards, not performance (outcome) regulations, reduced to numbers of feet and amount of food, but failing to take into account the general health and welfare of the animal. [89]   Roy’s lions may have enough food at their disposal and be living in a “large enough” cage, but nothing takes into account their mental well-being or whether they actually eat the food measured and required.   Inspectors applaud engineering standards because they are easy to monitor and easy to enforce--“it is simple and defendable.” [90]   Noncompliance may easily be determined with a tape measure, a scale, and a clipboard.

            However, such noncompliance is rarely prosecuted.   Following the 2003 attack on Roy Horn, it was revealed that in 1999 Siegfried and Roy’s habitat had been cited for noncompliance relating to medications on site and the lack of proper barriers between animals and tourists. [91]   In 1998, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus reached an out-of-court settlement regarding violations of the Animal Welfare Act arising from the death of a two-and-a-half-year-old baby elephant named Kenny following a performance in Florida. [92]   Despite these cases, both the Jungle Habitat at the Mirage and Ringling Brothers remain open.


III. Expert Opinions


Tigerlink.org suggests the following accommodations for the display of captive tigers, as suggested by R. Montali of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians.   The list includes a clean water source, a raised shelf, natural and artificial lighting, an unscaleable moat, high fencing, nontoxic natural planting, and epoxy coatings over any concrete used.   To provide for the cat’s mental well-being, Montali suggests:

         Environment Enrichment, including:

         Toys: Hard plastic balls (e.g., "boomer balls"), traffic cones.

         Olfactory stimulation: Variety of smells placed at varying locations in enclosure from time to time. May include food, other animals, perfume, catnip, spices, etc.

         Heat rocks and cold rocks

         Whole food/carcasses: Meat "on the bone" provides tigers with an opportunity to display natural foraging and manipulative behavior and occupies their time.

         Meat trail/hiding food/adding bones: carcass is dragged through exhibit and hidden.

         Scratching logs. [93]

            Big Cat Rescue suggests that for large felids like lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards/snow leopards, enclosures should have 1,200 square feet of space for the first animal, with an increase of 25% for each additional animal in the display. [94]   By the Big Cat Rescue standards, the 5,000 square foot habitat at the MGM Grand is sufficient space for the eight cats within it, which would require only 3,300 square feet.   Dens and water features must be provided to allow for typical feline behaviors, and enclosure walls must be 12 feet high. Since cats get bored easily, toys like boomer balls, drums, barrels, cones, rawhide, and bones should be furnished. [95]

            The American Zoological Association Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) has designated several zoos with good tiger exhibits.   These include the Cincinnati Zoo, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., the San Diego Zoo, and the Minnesota Zoo. [96] Common features of the award-winning displays include:

1) Relatively large outdoor space;

2) Water pools, moats or running streams;

3) Natural vegetation to avoid the grotto look; and

4) Reduce or avoid bars between tigers and the viewing public. [97]


IV. Conclusion


Without question, the best course of action to follow for the animals would be a ban on the use of endangered and threatened wild animals in entertainment, such as that now in place in India.   With the modern trends in computer-generated imaging and animatronics, there is no longer a need to use real animals in film.   The popularity of non-animal circuses has been definitively proven by acts such as Cirque de Soleil, which commands an astonishing average of $70 per ticket.   Animals exploited for entertainment in cities like Las Vegas could easily be replaced by the more traditional showgirls, human magicians, and comedy acts.   So far, only six American municipalities have banned animal acts completely: two in Florida, two in Massachusetts, and one each in Maryland and Illinois. [98]

            However desirable this outcome may be, the complete ban of the use of animals for human entertainment is highly unlikely within any of our lifetimes.   Instead, a concerted effort must be made to strengthen laws protecting show animals, and to provide adequate means and monies for enforcement of these laws.   Trainers and owners with multiple AWA complaints should be investigated, and their licenses suspended or revoked. Repeat offenders like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey should be forced to relinquish the animals in their care, or at least subject to random inspections by the USDA, ASPCA, and other animal welfare organizations.   The MGM Grand at the very least should immediately cease all photo opportunities with their lion cubs, or possibly create a shuttle to the Cat House to see the lions in larger spaces.

            The best licensing and accommodation plan might be drawn by combining the strict initial licensing requirements in force in New Zealand with the stringent traveling and display requirements in force in Nova Scotia.   By combining the best thinking from these two jurisdictions, it may be possible to plan for the animals’ care during their performance career, in the event of financial insolvency of the facility, and in transit.   The strict transportation requirements laid out by Nova Scotia certainly would have prevented the death of Clyde the Ringling lion, who would have been watered every two hours. The locking system required on permanent housing in Nova Scotia would probably have prevented Byron-Marasek’s escaped tigers, and the requirement to separate aggressive males would have saved the tigers mauled by Marco, the aggressive male.

            Under Nova Scotia’s accommodation requirements for the housing of big cats, the MGM Grand’s Lion Habitat would be illegal, since the entire facility is created from concrete and plastic, instead of the required natural substrate.   The photo opportunities with cubs provided by the Grand would be banned under section 16.1A.2, which provides that members of the public must be kept at least 6.5 feet from the cat cage. [99]

            In order to enforce these statutes, it is vital that Congress provide the requisite monies needed to give the AWA and other animal cruelty statutes “bite.”   As with any animal abuse statute, the problem remains of what to do with the big cats removed from dangerous situations.   These animals eat an average of 40 pounds of meat per kill in the wild, or 10 pounds of meat and vitamins per day in a zoo-like setting. [100]   These provisions cost money, money many rescuers just don’t have.

            Additionally, many of the organizations who frequently intervene in animal abuse cases, including local humane shelters, are completely unequipped to handle animals like lions and tigers.   Detroit shelters report similar problems, including jaguars, lions and leopards often used to guard drugs and contraband.   Big cats have become so frequent, the Michigan Humane Society installed facilities to hold two big cats at a time. [101]

            The Captive Wildlife Safety Act, passed by Congress this year, serves to address some of these big-cat-as-pet issues.   The Act provides for penalties for those caught buying, selling, or importing animals [102] like lions, tigers, jaguars, and any hybrids thereof. [103]   The Act also provides for fee-shifting, placing the financial burden of care for the seized animal on the convicted owner. [104]   The Act also specifically allots funds from the Secretary of the Treasury to be paid as rewards to persons furnishing information leading to the arrest and conviction of a big cat owner or illegal dealer. [105]

            In his testimony before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans in support of passage of this Act, Eric Miller, a board member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and Director of Animal Health and Conservation at St. Louis Zoological Park, told the subcommittee:

In a raid of a California home in April of 2003, the California State Department of Fish and Game found 30 dead adult lions and tigers and 58 cubs found dead in a freezer. Allegedly the adults were left to starve to death because they were no longer marketable to buyers and the cubs were killed due to overproduction. . . . With unregulated breeding, these animals have no breeding or genetic record behind them. This is problematic when the pet owners abandon their animals at accredited zoos which are unable to introduce them into their legal breeding programs due to a lack of genetic background information. . . . This type of breeding decreases the genetic viability of the species and increases the risk of tainted bloodlines getting into American zoological collections and possibly wild populations. [106]

            What is required above all else is the reeducation of educators, who still believe that observing animals in zoos and exhibits is a proper teaching tool.   If the public were reeducated to understand the pain and suffering that is inexorably entwined with these exhibits, market pressures could lead to the phase out of animal acts and nonconservation-based facilities.   But as long as society teaches children it is okay to view animals in these situations, society will fail to reach a point where the interests of the animals outweigh the financial considerations of their captors.


“Dieu aima les oiseaux et inventa les arbres.

L'homme aima les oiseaux et inventa les cages.”
(God loved the birds and invented trees.  Man loved the birds and invented cages.) [107]

~Jacques Deval


* J.D. Michigan State University College of Law 2006.

[1] Isaac Asimov , Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations 67 (1988).

[2] People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Hold Ringling Accountable for Clyde’s Tragic Death, www.circuses.com/ringling-clyde.asp (all cites last visited Apr. 1, 2005).

[3] Id .

[4] Big Cat Rescue, State Laws for Keeping Exotic Pets, www.bigcatrescue.org/statelawsexoticcats.htm#AZ.

[5] Kinship Circle, The Big Con: Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus , available at


[6] Id .

[7] PETA, Factsheet: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey , available at


[8] Performing Animal Welfare Society v. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12203 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

[9] Gambling Magazine, MGM Denies Exploitation of Lions, www.Gamblingmagazine.com/articles/14/ 14-782.htm.

[10] Price quotes from www.vegas.com.

[11] MGM Grand, Lion Habitat, www.mgmgrand.com/pages/entertainment.asp?link=habitat.

[12] Rolling Hills Zoo, African Lions, www.rollinghillszoo.com/theanimals/l/lionafrican/.

[13] Big Cat Rescue, State Laws for Keeping Exotic Pets , www.bigcatrescue.org/statelawsexoticcats.htm#NV.

[14] Animal Welfare Act , 7 USCS §2132(h).

[15] Susan Orlean, The Lady and the Tigers, The New Yorker, 24 Feb. 2002.

[16] Id .

[17] PETA, When Animals Attack: Big Cats, www.circuses.com/attacks-cats99.asp.

[18] Red Nova, N.J. Workers Rounding Up 24 Bengal Tigers, 11 Nov. 2003 at


[19] Kathy Baratta, Sanctuary Owner Lays Out Plan to Move Jackson Tigers, TriTown News, 18 July 2002, at A1.

[20] Vanishing Species, Tigers, http://www.vanishingspecies.net/animals/details.php/000008/Tiger/Panthera/Tigris.

[21] Id .

[22] Orlean, supra note 15.

[23] Joseph Sapia, N.J. Born Tigers Stretch Out at Their New Texas Spread, Asbury Park Press, 5 Aug. 2004, at A1.

[24] Id .

[25] Red Nova, supra , note 18.

[26] Kathy Baratta, Jackson Tigers Reported to Be Doing Well in Texas; Move from Jackson Went Without Problems, Facility’s Director Says, TriTown News , 20 Nov. 2003, at A1.

[27] Id .

[28] Orlean, supra note 15, at 5.

[29] NJ Dept. of Envtl. Protection News Release , NJDEP DIV. of Fish and Wildlife Seeks Court Order to Remove Tigers (April, 21, 2001), www.state.nj.us/dep/newsrel/releases/01_0031.htm.

[30] CNN, Roy of Siegfried and Roy Critical After Mauling, http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/10/04/roy.attacked/.

[31] Brendan I Koerner, Why Put Roy’s Skull in His Stomach? , http://www.slate.msn.com/id/2090128.

[32] Illusionist Roy Horn Walks Again, CBS News, Mar. 10, 2004,


[33] Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat News, www.bigcatrescue.org/big_cat_news.htm.

[34] Id .

[35] Big Cat Rescue, Tigers, www.bigcatrescue.org/tiger.htm.

[36] Humane Socy. of the U.S., Siegfried and Roy Incident Underscores the Dangers of Exotic Pets ,


[37] Irish Socy. for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Exotic Animals: The Public Safety Issue,


[38] Id.

[39] European Council Directive 1999/22/EC on the Keeping of Animals in Zoos , available at


[40] Recognition of Zoo Rules , 10(1) (1992) (India).

[41] Id . at 10(7).

[42] Id . at 10(35).

[43] Id . at 10(42-44).

[44] Id . at 10(51).

[45] Id . at 9.

[46] The Indian Zoo Inquiry: A Review of Conditions in the Zoos of India 14 (Compassionate Crusaders Trust & Zoocheck eds., 2004), available at http://www.zoocheck.com/programs/zoocheck/Indianreport1.pdf .

[47] Id . at 18.

[48] Id.

[49] Id . at 9.

[50] Id . at 22.

[51] Zoocheck, India Leads the Way in Banning Circus Cruelty, available at

http://www.bigcatrescue.org/big_cat_news_files/bigcatattacks.htm .

[52] Subhendu Maiti, Circuses Slam Ban on Animal Shows, The Statesman (India), 28 Dec. 2000, available at Archives, http://www.thestatesman.net/.

[53] Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (England and Wales).

[54] Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2002.

[55] Id . at s. 2(2).

[56] Id . at s. 5(1-2).

[57] Id . at s. 1A(f).

[58] Id . at s. 10(1).

[59] Id . at s. 10(2).

[60] Id . at s. 10(7).

[61] Id . at s. 1A(c)(i).

[62] Lesli Bisgould, Wildlife in Captivity: An Examination of Legal Requirements in Canada and Around the World, Zoocheck Canada, Feb. 2000.

[63] Id .

[64] Id .

[65] Bisgould, supra note 62, at “Accommodation”.

[66] Id. at “Licensing Requirements 2”.

[67] Id.

[68] Id. at “Accommodation 2”.

[69] Standards for Exhibiting Circus Animals in Nova Scotia, cl. 1.

[70] Id . at cl. 5.

[71] Big Cat Rescue, Lion, www.bigcatrescue.org/lion.htm.

[72] Big Cat Rescue, Tiger, www.bigcatrescue.org/tiger.htm.

[73] Standards, supra note 69, at Clause 17.

[74] Id.

[75] Id . at cl. 6.

[76] Id . at cl. 19.

[77] Id . at cl. 16.

[78] Id . at cl. 21.1.A

[79] Id . at cl. 10.

[80] Id.

[81] Id . at cl. 11.

[82] Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C.S. §§ 2131 et seq.

[83] 7 U.S.C.S. § 2132(h).

[84] 7 U.S.C.S. § 2140.

[85] 7 U.S.C.S. § 2143.

[86] 7 U.S.C.S. § 2146(a).

[87] 7 U.S.C.S. § 2149(a-b).

[88] Id . at (d).

[89] David Favre , Animals: Welfare, Interests, and Rights 382 (2003).

[90] Id .

[91] PETA, About Siegfried and Roy, www.circuses.com/siegfriedroy-about.asp.

[92] Performing Animal Welfare Society v. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12203 (DC 2001).

[93] Tiger Missing Link Foundation, Management and Conservation of Captive Tigers: Tiger Holding and Facility Exhibit, www.tigerlink.org/husbandry/husman3.htm.

[94] Big Cat Rescue, Exotic Cat Standards, www.bigcatresue.org/exoticcatstandards.htm.

[95] Id .

[96] The American Zoo and Aquarium Association, Exhibit Award Recipients, www.aza.org/HonorsAwards/ExhibitHistory/.

[97] Tiger Missing Link Foundation, supra note 93, at “Editor’s Note”.

[98] Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Animal Use, www.cfhs.ca/Programs/AnimalUse/circus3.htm.

[99] Standards, supra note 69 at cl. 16(A)(1).

[100] Save the Tiger Fund, Eating, http://www.savethetigerfund.org/AllAboutTigers/Basics/eating.htm.

[101] Id .

[102] 16 U.S.C.S. § 3373.

[103] 16 U.S.C.S. § 3371(g).

[104] 16 U.S.C.S. § 3374(c).

[105] 16 U.S.C.S. § 3375(d).

[106] Testimony of Eric Miller, D.V.M., before the Committee on Resources on H.R. 1006, 12 June 2003.

[107] Jacques Deval, Afin de vivre bel et bien, available at http://www.nightwing.easynet.be/citations/citations-9.html.

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