CUZCO, Peru––Three years after Peru officially stopped the use of wildlife in circuses, a nominally banned lion named Smith nearly killed schoolteacher Roxana Guevara Huaraca, 32, during an August 14, 2014 performance of the Monaco Circus in Santa Rosa, in the district of San Sebastian, near Cuzco.
The highly public and well-publicized appearance of the lion act called into question the will of Peruvian authorities to implement the ban on wildlife acts.
Invited by trainer Richard Gavidia to participate in the lion performance, Guevara Huaraca entered Smith the lion’s cage and stood in front of Smith with her head bowed, facing Gavidia.
“The lion tamer told me, ‘Don’t be afraid. We’ve done this before and it’s very docile,’” Guevara Huaraca told reporters later from a hospital bed. “It crushed my back when it jumped on top of me. I couldn’t do anything. It grabbed my throat with its claws. I thought I was going to die.”
Video of the incident posted to YouTube showed that Smith dragged Guevara Huaraca around his cage until Guevara Huaraca struggled back to her feet and saved herself, while Gavidia pursued Smith, striking at him with a stick.
Gavidia pledged that the circus would pay for Guevara Huaraca’s emergency medical care.
Smith, two other lions, and a money were impounded soon afterward by local police. Reportedly they were to be sent to an unnamed sanctuary.
Peruvian president Alan Garcia on July 22, 2011 signed into law the national ban on the use of wildlife in circuses. The law was based on a template promoted by Animal Defenders International since 2007.
Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Paraguay have also banned wildlife use in circuses since 2007, implenting the Animal Defenders International recommendations. Similar bans were adopted in Greece in 2012 and Cyprus and El Salvador in 2013. Tom Duffy’s Circus, the last to exhibit lions and tigers in Ireland, discontinued big cat acts in June 2013.
The Mexico City legislative assembly in June 2014 voted 41-0 with 11 abstentions in favor of phasing out all use of animals in circuses by mid-2015. Mexico City followed the lead of six Mexican states: Colima, Guerrero, Morelos, Yucatan, Chiapas and Zacatecas. Violators may be fined up to $60,000.
“The law does not apply to water shows with dolphins or bull fighting, nor does it prohibit the use of animals in Mexico’s traditional rodeos, known as ‘charreadas,’” explained Associated Press.
The legislation was approved just after the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus completed a two-week engagement in Mexico City.
British agriculture minister David Heath in April 2013 introduced a draft bill which would require circuses to end wild animal acts by the beginning of December 2015, but it has not advanced.