There will be no more acrobatic elephants, lions snarling at whips or tigers leaping through flaming hoops under the big top in Mexico.
But the ban on animal performances at circuses that took effect Wednesday doesn’t necessarily mean the animals will be kept entirely out of view.
“It does not prohibit that the animals may be kept for exhibition in the circuses,” said Mexico’s federal attorney general for environmental protection, Guillermo Haro Belchez. The law just prevents their use in acts and performances.
The Mexican capital and 16 states already had bans, but the new law expands that nationally.
Of 199 registered circuses, the government has inspected 75 and verified 1,046 animals. However, only 55 circuses have submitted inventories of their animals, as required by law, making it impossible to know exactly how many wild animals the circuses have.
Those that submitted lists accounted for 511 animals. Another 21 circuses have informed the government that they no longer have wild animals.
Animals that are turned over by the circuses for placement elsewhere — only one has done so voluntarily so far — will be offered to Mexico’s 108 zoos.
The head of Mexico’s circus owners’ association warned in March that animals may die or be put down because of the ban. Owners argued that if the animals cannot work they cannot pay for their care.
Haro Belchez emphasized that since the law was passed in January, his office knows of no case where an abandoned animal died or was put to death by its owner.
There have been abandoned animals, however. Last month, authorities found six tigers, seven baboons, four camels and three dromedaries abandoned in cages without food or water in the southern state of Yucatan. Those animals were taken to a zoo in Merida.
Owners with the proper paperwork on their animals will also be able to sell them or transport them out of the country, Haro Belchez said.
Rafael Pacchiano, an assistant secretary for environmental protection, speculated that the reason more circuses had not asked for the government’s help in finding homes for their animals was because they planned to keep them.
The circuses that do keep their wild animals will have to submit new management plans for them explaining how they will be maintained, Pacchiano said.