For the latest news on this story, check out our update from July 21.
Yesterday, the UniverSoul Circus opened a five-day run at the Jamestown Mall -- bringing its dancing dogs, amazing acrobats and terrible tigers to north county St. Louis.
But even before it could begin the show, the circus drew a complaint. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had obtained a video from the circus' trip to Buffalo, New York, in early July -- showing one of those terrible tigers in a piteous situation. The video appears to show the big cat's paw trapped beneath the bars of his cage for more than two minutes minutes.
After obtaining the video, PETA staffers filed a complaint at the circus' next stop, in Indianapolis. And, after the circus set up shop here this week, they also contacted St. Louis County, says PETA's director of captive animal law enforcement, Delcianna Winders, which found two limping tigers.
John Shelton, a spokesman for the county health department, confirms the visit to Daily RFT. He says that the county did find at least one limping tiger -- and both forwarded the matter to the USDA and asked UniverSoul Circus for certification that the animal has received veterinary care.
As of 3 p.m. today, the county had yet to receive any such certification. Shelton said county workers are returning to Jamestown Mall in hopes of getting the information.
But Hank Ernest, a spokesman for UniverSoul Circus, tells Daily RFT that he's surprised to hear any tigers were limping. The animal in question was just playing around near a flap that's used to get food into his cage, Ernest says. "He slid his paw under the flap and couldn't push it back by himself," he explains. "So he just laid back, waiting for someone to push it through." A staffer came to his aid; the tiger was never injured. Ernest says the circus brought in a vet to confirm that.
"Our circus would simply not allow an animal to be mistreated," he says.
You can see the video, provided by PETA, below.
Shelton tells Daily RFT that the county hasn't made any determination yet. "At this point, we're investigating," he says. "It's our business to help animals, and keep them from being abused."
But, he warns, even if the circus can't provide a veterinarian's certification, the county has limited power to act. At best, they could probably write a summons, which is something akin to a traffic ticket. "We can't just shut the show down," he says.
Winders, of PETA, says that UniverSoul Circus doesn't have its own license from the USDA; it uses contractors, who are licensed independently. Some of those contractors have been cited in the past for failing to provide proper veterinary care or sufficient space for their animals. She also said there have been two different tiger escapes on one contractor's watch.
The UniverSoul Circus was founded in 1993 to showcase the talents of black performers. Its stand in St. Louis ends Sunday; after that, it sets up its tents in the parking lot of Kansas City's Kemper Arena.
Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of St. Louis and beyond.
Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.
Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep St. Louis' true free press free.