Damning Circus Video Prompts Appeal to Shriners

PETA Calls For Animal-Free Circuses After Footage Shows Handlers Hitting Frightened Horse, Lions, and Tigers

For Immediate Release:
March 5, 2020

Contact:
Moira Colley 202-483-7382

Omaha, Neb. – This morning, PETA—armed with damning video footage depicting violence against animals at a recent Tangier Shrine Circus show in Council Bluffs, Iowa—sent a letter calling on the Tangier Shriners in Omaha, Nebraska, to stop using animals in their annual circus.

The footage shows notorious big-cat exhibitor Vicenta Pages hitting lions and tigers with a prod as they flinched in fear, growing more frantic and confused as they searched for a way to escape the ring. During another act, exhibitor David Donnert tried to force a visibly distressed horse to lie down by hauling on the reins and striking him on the legs. He dragged the trembling horse down to his knees four times before finally giving up on the trick, and at one point, the horse almost fell over. In the video, an audience member can be heard yelling, “Stop!” and “[T]hat’s enough!” Donnert also whipped a camel in the face.

“Violence took center stage at the Tangier Shrine Circus, where tigers were whipped and a trembling horse was dragged to his knees for a failed comedy act,” says PETA Foundation Deputy Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “PETA is calling on the Shriners to stop endorsing cruelty and commit to animal-free circuses.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” and which opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview—notes that this is not the first time animal suffering has been documented at a Tangier Shrine Circus show. In 2017, a bear urinated on herself in apparent distress when pulled by a leash and forced to walk on her front legs. The next year, an animal behaviorist published an expert report detailing the abuses that went on at the circus.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

PETA’s letter to W. Allen Smith, potentate of the Tangier Shriners, follows.

March 5, 2020

W. Allen Smith, Potentate
Tangier Shriners

Dear Mr. Smith,

I’m writing on behalf of PETA regarding appalling video footage from this year’s Tangier Shrine Circus in Council Bluffs, Iowa. PETA has repeatedly urged the Tangier Shriners to stop using animals for its annual circus, but as the footage confirms, animal abuse is still occurring on your watch.

This year’s circus featured a big-cat act presented by notorious exhibitor Vicenta Pages. During the performance, she hit lions and tigers with a prod as they flinched in fear. After one lion showed aggression toward another, the animals grew more frantic and confused, knocking a pedestal over as they searched for a way to escape the chaotic ring and Pages’ threatening whip. The animals had every reason to be afraid when things didn’t go according to plan: When a tiger attacked Pages during a performance at a fair in Florida, she and another trainer beat a tiger named Gandhi in the face with a whip more than two dozen times.

The other trainer involved in that incident was David Donnert, who supplied the horse and camel acts at your circus this year. His “Chief Bear Paw Comedy Act” was anything but comedic—a visibly distressed horse trembled in fear when Donnert repeatedly attempted to force him to lie down by hauling on the reins and hitting him. Throughout the four attempts to perform the trick, Donnert pulled so hard on one rein that the bit inflicted painful, unrelenting pressure on the horse’s sensitive mouth. At one point, the animal got entangled in the reins and nearly fell over. The incident was emotionally distressing and posed a significant risk of physical injury, such as strain to the horse’s muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments. Had he become more entangled or fallen, he could easily have broken bones or dislocated a joint—life-threatening injuries for a horse.

The Tangier Shriners are no strangers to incidents such as these. In 2017, a bear urinated on herself in apparent distress when pulled by a leash and forced to walk on her front paws. In 2018, exhibitor Brian Franzen was caught on video striking an elephant in the jaw with a bullhook while she was lying down, and an animal behaviorist published an expert report detailing the abuses at your circus.

Year after year, animals endure shocking cruelty at the Tangier Shrine Circus, but as potentate, you can stop this. Will you please commit to making all future performances of the circus animal-free?

Very truly yours,

Heather Rally, D.V.M.

Supervising Veterinarian, Captive Animal Law Enforcement

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind