Mexican circuses forced to sell their big cats off to highest bidders
A Mexico City circus is offering seven Siberian tigers and other big cats to the highest bidder, saying they would even sell their animals to a drug cartel boss if the price were right. Cedeño Bros circus - which expects to be put out of business by new legislation that bans performing animals - has already received offers from 'private clients' and 'middle-men' for their tigers.
'We have raised these animals from birth and aren't allowed to keep them, but there's no problem for a wanted criminal', owner Armando Cedeño told the MailOnline, 'This law is ridiculous, and so we're selling to whoever gives us the best price.'
There are also fears that thousands of non-working animals will have to be killed because they have no where to go - if no owners are found to cover their expensive food and care bills.
The law which came into place in December 2014 toughened up the existing General Wildlife Act by banning all circus animals nationwide.
Mexico's Congress said 'the use of animals in circuses provides no educational value to viewer,' and animals exhibited in circuses only perform 'because they fear what may happen if they do not'.
The government assured circus owners that space would be found for the animals when it passed the controversial law.
But no restrictions were put on owners selling to private clients. 'They are for sale to the highest bidder', proclaims Armando. 'And if that means selling to someone who is involved in illegal activities, then so be it'.
Mexican drug lords are famed for their accumulation of rare and exotic items, among which lions and tigers are highly prized.
As the 1983 gangster film Scarface portrayed, private zoos have long been considered a status symbol for drug kingpins who are eager to flaunt their wealth.
Police discovered more than 200 animals including lions, peacocks and ostriches on the ranch of Mexican drug lord Jesus 'The King' Zambada after his arrest in 2008.
The former leader of the infamous Sinaloa cartel developed a love for exotic species. That obsession transferred to his son Serafin who posted images of himself sitting on his pet lion on his Facebook account. Other pictures would show the beast calmly eating out of a beautiful woman's hand.
The raid on the mansion last year of another Sinaloa boss, El Chapo Guzman, revealed a collection of two black panthers, eight lions and other big cats which included an extremely rare white tiger.
His son Alfredo - who was himself arrested in Arizona in 2013 - used his Twitter account to show off images of young cheetahs, leopards and lion cubs in his various super-cars. The animals are to be removed from the circuses on July 8 and less than three months from zero hour, Armando says he has already had a number of private offers for his total of seven tigers, a puma and a jaguar.
He did not mention any bids for his lamas and camels who - along with thousands of other circus animals - may have to be killed when they have nowhere to go and no new owners can be found.
Circus owners say they cannot afford to feed non-working animals and - with many public zoos unable to afford the upkeep for the larger ones - many will have to be put down.
Armando, who is also the president of the Mexican Association of Circus Owners, said: 'If we can't feed them, we're going to have to put them to sleep. We don't have any other option.' One tiger eats a minimum of three chickens daily, but can be fed with the money it attracts in ticket sales.
Armando added: 'The zoos can't afford them because they cost so much to maintain. Profits are going to drop and the tigers won't be producing. They've got to go.'
His nine big cats cost over £500 a week to maintain. And the circus's big cat family is about to have another mouth to feed, as six-year-old Siberian tiger Diana is pregnant, due to give birth in three weeks.
Armando has already received bids from what he describes as 'middle-men'. 'Offers have been in the region of £450 per tiger, but well-trained animals are worth £5,000', he said, 'But we might be forced down to fire-sale prices.'
'They'll either die of hunger or be sold to a client who can afford to keep them', Cedeño Circus lion tamer Junior told the MailOnline, 'That will probably be a politician or a drug lord'. Junior, 41, has been around the exotic animals his entire life. It was his father, also a lion tamer, who taught him the skills of the trade.
With his work about to be made illegal, he says he has no idea how to do anything else.
'There are around 40 lion tamers in Mexico and we have ganged together to see what we can do', he told the MailOnline, 'I will probably end up working as a street-sweeper.'
'Mexicans don't need to have fun through the suffering of another living being', said Mexican congresswoman Karla Gomez after the law was passed last June.
The new legislation will not affect either cockfighting or bullfighting which are also popular in Mexico.
'This law isn't about animal rights at all', said Armando, 'The circus is just as much a tradition in Mexico as blood-sports, and we don't lay a finger on our animals'.
'It's about respect for living beings that are not human', said Jesus Sesma, a politician who pushed the law.
Party leader Gildardo Guerrero told Al Jazeera that 'circuses are a modern form of slavery'. But Junior said: 'We treat our animals with great care. You wouldn't last long against this guy if you whacked him.'
The law bans the use of exotic animals for performance in circuses, and has put the futures of over 2,000 seals, bears, elephants and big cats in doubt.
Over seventy Mexican circuses have closed their doors since the law came into effect, claiming the animals are a vital source of income.
'They did this in Argentina years back and the circus industry died', says Armando, 'The same is going to happen here'.
Other circuses have embraced the modernisation, with the 'Cyber Circus' in Guadalajara promoting a robotic elephant known as 'Big Yorgi'.
Animals rights group AnimaNaturalis, along with the country's controversial Green Party, has been petitioning the government to ban the abuse of animals for a number of years. The group has led educational campaigns, demonstrations and political lobbying to increase awareness of how animals are treated in Mexico.
'The animals are tortured through horrific training methods', Adriana Buenrostro told Al Jazeera.
Adriana is one of the leading campaigners for AnimaNaturalis in Mexico. 'They spend their whole lives locked in cages'.
It was England's Philip Lailson that first brought the use of animals in circuses to Mexico in the early 1800s. Today the country has 199 registered circuses; many in fixed places, others touring the country offering shows.
'I love the circus, and much of that is to do with the animals', said Marina Castillo, a resident of Chimalhuacan where the Cedeño Circus brothers are currently based. 'I don't think the law is right. The animals aren't being hurt, and lots of people are losing their work as a result'.