CHIMALHUACÁN, México — “Utter devastation remains,” Armando Cedeño said, on his circus’ stage without lights or fanfare, while the stars of the show, seven Bengal tigers, await in their cages the uncertain destiny set for them by a new law prohibiting their presence in circus shows in Mexico.
As of Wednesday, circuses can only keep animals if they have the proper permits and keep them in good living conditions, but they cannot feature in shows. Otherwise, authorities will seize them.
“I never thought it would end like this,” said Junior, the tiger tamer of the Cedeño circus, as workers put away tents in Chimalhuacán, outside Mexico City.
One of the tigers, “Whiskers,” stares blankly at the six kilograms of chicken in his two-by-two meter cage, while “Samurai” licks his paws.
Junior, who goes by his circus name, fears that leaving the circus will be a “shock” for the tigers, which are “used to people, music and applause.” As for Junior himself, he has “no idea” what he will do for work from now on.
Some 200 circuses have wild animals, the environment ministry said. While nearly 1,100 animals were declared in 2014, only 511 have been counted this year.
Armando Cedeño, the owner of the circus in Chimalhuacán and president of the industry’s national union, estimates that there are likely about 4,000 animals.
Some 70 circuses have already gone bankrupt while 2,000 workers have lost their jobs, he said, staring at his tigers, the main attraction for his shows.
Stroking the head of one tiger, Cedeño said the government has not fulfilled its promise to find new safe havens for the animals in zoos, foundations or the homes of collectors in Mexico and abroad.
But deputy environment minister Rafael Pacchiano countered that circus owners have not requested any help from the authorities to relocate the animals.
Circuses that still use animals for their shows will be fined more than $250,000, said Guillermo Haro, the federal environmental protection prosecutor.
The law is the brainchild of the Green Party, which promoted the legislation with a media blitz that denounced alleged cases of animal abuse.
In a prominent case last year, a circus in the eastern state of Yucatán was fined more than $50,000 after it removed the lower jaw of its black bear, Invictus.
The Green Party argues that the law “sets a precedent for the respect and protection of animals.”
But Leonora Esquivel, co-founder of the international animal welfare group AnimaNaturalis, said the law is limited because it does not apply to cock fights, bullfights and shows with marine animals.
While wild animals will no longer feature in circuses, Esquivel said Mexico needs to implement a new model for zoos to turn them into “fauna recovery centers.”
A critic of the law, Rubén Escamilla, a lawmaker from the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, said the legislation offers no financial compensation to circus owners.
“There’s a clear violation of private property,” Escamilla said.
Cedeño said circus owners will launch legal bids to counter what they consider a “discriminatory” law that is based on “false propaganda.”
The Cedeño Brothers held their final show with animals on Monday.
“Don’t take the animals away!” the crowd shouted, after the tigers formed a pyramid and jumped through a fiery ring.
“It’s pure grief,” Cedeño said, wearing boots covered in dirt at the muddy circus grounds.
“Don’t stop coming to the circus even though we no longer have tigers. Don’t let us die,” he said before shutting himself inside his caravan.