Video of Emaciated Tiger Used by Shrine Circuses Prompts PETA Appeal

With COVID-19 and Tiger King to Consider, It’s High Time for Shriners to Ban Wild-Animal Circus Shows

For Immediate Release:
October 15, 2020

David Perle 202-483-7382

Tampa, Fla.

Armed with damning video footage of suffering tigers used for Shrine circuses, PETA sent a letter this morning calling on Shriners International to require that—when Shrine circuses resume after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides—member clubs host only those that don’t exploit animals.

PETA points out that Tiger King has alerted audiences to the cruelty of breeding and exploiting big cats for entertainment—and PETA’s video includes footage of an emaciated tiger named King in desperate need of veterinary care along with other distressed tigers pacing in transport cages so small that they can’t even stretch to their full height.

“PETA is asking Shriners International to see the pandemic shutdown as an opportunity to reflect on whether it will leave a legacy of cruelty or one of compassion,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Debbie Metzler. “Animal-free Shrine circuses aren’t just the ethical choice—they may also be the only hope of attracting audiences in a post–Tiger King world.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

PETA’s letter to Shriners International Imperial Potentate James R. Smith follows.

October 15, 2020

James R. Smith

Imperial Potentate

Shriners International

Dear Mr. Smith,

I’m writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has halted Shrine circus shows across the country, and following the Netflix series Tiger King, which captured the world’s attention and revealed the atrocities of breeding and exploiting big cats for entertainment. As exposed in a new PETA video, circuses produced by your member clubs are no exception. Now is the time to stop this abuse.

PETA recently obtained horrific footage from U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections of the now-defunct Hawthorn Corporation—which provided Shrine circuses with tiger acts—showing an emaciated tiger named King in desperate need of veterinary care. Inspection reports from the same period also showed that two tigers had died in just over one month while on the road with Hawthorn. The other tigers shown in PETA’s video were also supplied to Shrine circuses by notoriously cruel exhibitors. The animals are seen being hauled around in trailers, spending much of their lives inside small transport cages, where they have no space to exercise, climb, or even stretch to their full height. They were also pacing in what little space they do have, which is a sign of severe mental distress.

You’ve seen that times have changed. The Western Montana Shrine Circus ended its wild-animal acts, Shrine circuses in Canada haven’t used wild animals in years, and the Bahia, Jerusalem, and Melha shrines ended their annual animal circuses, while modern, progressive circuses are dazzling their audiences with talented human-only performers. Nearly 700 venues and dozens of communities—including the entire states of California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York—prohibit or restrict animal exhibits, and that list will only grow.

In the midst of the global pandemic and growing awareness of injustice to others, people are searching their souls and examining their impact on society. For most organizations, this societal reckoning includes reflecting on all the deeply disturbing ways in which animals have been and still are being violated. We hope you will take an honest look at Shriners International’s policies and decide to require that member clubs host only fundraisers that don’t exploit animals.

Very truly yours,

Melanie Johnson

Manager, Animals in Entertainment Campaign

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