7 min read

Circus Tiger Whipped 31 Times In 2 Minutes By Angry Trainer

She cowers whenever she sees the whip.

A tiger named Tora stands on a stool, cowering and flinching, while her trainer whips her over and over, according to footage from a recent undercover investigation — and that wasn't even the worst of it.

Tiger cowering at the sight of trainer with whip | HSUS

Another clip shows the tigers in a ring during a training session. One glances over at the trainer and, seeing the whip in his hand, hurries away, terrified.

These scenes appear to be business as usual for ShowMe Tigers, a traveling tiger act run by Ryan Easley that performs with the Carden Circus and Shrine Circuses, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which conducted the investigation.

Circus tigers crammed together in small transport cages | HSUS
circus tiger being trained
Tora flinched and moaned as she was being whipped during training. | HSUS

“Ryan Easley utilizes archaic training methods which entail fear, force and punishment,” Jay Pratte, an animal behavior expert, said in a statement released by HSUS. According to investigators, Easley whipped Tora over and over after he became frustrated with her for not obeying.

"In my professional opinion, the tigers at ShowMe Tigers are suffering from psychological neglect and trauma on a daily basis,” Pratte said.


The investigation was released just days before Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is set to perform its last show ever. And it shows that, while progress has been made in shutting down cruel animal shows, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“Anyone who lives with a house cat will recognize the signs of stress and trauma exhibited by Easley’s tigers,” Lisa Wathne, captive wildlife manager at HSUS, told The Dodo. “It hurts to imagine what kind of painful coercion would been needed to induce a cat — let alone a tiger who weighs hundreds of pounds — to hop on her hind legs.”

circus tigers being trained
HSUS


When not performing, the eight tigers at ShowMe Tigers were subjected to almost constant confinement in their metal transport cages, which measure only 4 feet wide, 4 feet high and just over 6 feet long. The two male tigers, who each weigh over 500 pounds, shared one transport cage.

"Except for the few minutes each day when the tigers performed, they were kept exclusively in transport cages where they ate, slept, paced, urinated and defecated in the approximately 13 square feet of floor space afforded to each one,” HSUS’s report reads. "Not once were they provided the chance to exercise outside the transport cages. In fact, the tigers’ exercise cage was never even unloaded from the trailer.”

Circus tiger in small transport cage
Tigers kept in small transport cages for 23 hours per day paced and moaned. | HSUS

The secret investigation took place from December 28, 2016, through January 18, 2017, and followed Easley around his headquarters in Hugo, Oklahoma, then on the road for nine days as he and his tigers toured with the Carden Circus in towns in Oklahoma and Texas.

Tora, the tiger who was observed being whipped 31 times in under two minutes, suffered from an untreated wound on her face. And this isn’t the first time she’s faced such health problems: Five years ago, the USDA, the government agency that enforces the Animal Welfare Act, cited Easley for neglecting to treat an open wound on Tora’s ribcage.

circus tigers kept in small crates
HSUS

"The tigers cowered, flinched and moaned in distress and flattened their ears back in a fearful response to being whipped and hit with a stick, typical behavior of traumatized and abused tigers,” investigators wrote in the HSUS report. "The mere presence of these tools during performances evoked classic signs of fear and behavioral stress.”

When not being trained, the tigers paced their tiny cages, moaning. At headquarters in Hugo, the tigers tried to keep warm with no heat and only an inch of bedding while temperatures dropped below freezing. They were fed raw chicken, when they were fed at all. During five of the 22 days of the investigation, the tigers weren’t given anything to eat.

HSUS says it has reported its findings to the USDA, urging the agency to investigate.
 

circus tigers performing
HSUS

“While it’s true that Ringling is going out of business, other circuses are still operating and using inhumane methods of handling wild animals,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, said in a statement. "There’s no excuse or rationale for whipping tigers or other wild animals for these silly performances. All circuses should end their wild animal acts.”

ShowMe Tigers did not immediately reply to The Dodo’s request for comment.

To stand up for wild animals forced to perform in circuses, you can add your name this petition. You can also donate to HSUS to fund more investigations.