After tiger escapes in Henry County, animal protection group wants Congress to act

The escape and death of a circus tiger in Henry County earlier this week has a major animal welfare and protection group pushing for Congressional action.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) on Thursday renewed its call for Congress to support the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (HR1759), one day after Suzy, a six-year-old Bengal tiger, escaped unnoticed from a truck transporting her and other big cats from Florida to Tennessee.

“When things go wrong in wild animal circuses they go seriously wrong,” Animal Defenders International president Tim Phillips said in a statement. “Aside from the public danger, this tiger has paid with her life for a human error, all in the name of frivolous entertainment.”

Suzy, a star performer in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was shot and killed by police Wednesday morning after she jumped the chain-link fence of a home located in a densely populated area and pounced on a small dog. Authorities had received at least two 911 calls from people who’d spotted the tiger near the ramp from I-75 North to Jodeco Road around 6 a.m., said Henry police Capt. Joey Smith.

Suzy and 13 other tigers on the truck were owned by big cat trainer Alexander Lacey, who was contracted to work with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, Inc. ,later told the AJC. Feld ran the circus for 146 years before its last show in May. 

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The tigers were being shipped from a property in Tampa that housed the animals after the circus closed and were headed to a Tennessee airport for a flight to Germany, the spokesman, Stephen Payne, said. 

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is investigating the incident. Meanwhile, ADI says Congress needs to act on the bill that was introduced back in March by U.S. Representatives Ryan Costello (R-PA) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). The legislation, which has 32 co-sponsors (including Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Lithonia) seeks to amend the Animal Welfare Act to restrict the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses and other traveling animal acts. 

“This tragic incident adds to the already overwhelming evidence showing traveling wild animal acts are not safe for animals or people,” Phillips said. “We urge Congress to act.”

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