Chimalhuacan (México) (AFP) - The big tent's lights are out and the stars of the show, seven Bengal tigers, pace restlessly in cages, waiting for new homes following new legislation banning circus animals in Mexico.
The Hermanos Cedeno circus, like hundreds of others across the country, can no longer feature performances by big cats, bears, camels and other animals under the controversial law that came into force on Wednesday.
"I never thought it would end like this," said Junior, the tiger tamer of the Cedeno circus, as workers put away tents in Chimalhuacan, outside Mexico City.
One of the tigers, "Whiskers," stares blankly at the six kilograms (13 pounds) of chicken in his two-by-two meter (6.5-by-6.5 foot) cage, while "Samurai" licks his paws.
Junior, who goes by his circus name, fears that leaving the circus will be a "shock" for the tigers, which are "used to people, music and applause."
As for Junior himself, he has "no idea" what he will do for work from now on.
Some 200 circuses have wild animals, the environment ministry said. While nearly 1,100 animals were declared in 2014, only 511 have been counted this year.
Armando Cedeno, the owner of the circus in Chimalhuacan and president of the industry's national union, estimates that there are likely about 4,000 animals.
Some 70 circuses have already gone bankrupt while 2,000 workers have lost their jobs, he said, staring at his tigers, the main attraction for his shows.
Stroking the head of one tiger, Cedeno said the government has not fulfilled its promise to find new safe havens for the animals in zoos, foundations or the homes of collectors in Mexico and abroad.
But deputy environment minister Rafael Pacchiano countered that circus owners have not requested any help from the authorities to relocate the animals.
Circuses that still use animals for their shows will be fined more than $250,000, said Guillermo Haro, the federal environmental protection prosecutor.
From now on, circuses can only keep animals if they have the proper permits and keep them in good living conditions, but they cannot feature in shows. Otherwise, authorities will seize them.
- Mutilated bear -
The law is the brainchild of the Green Party, which promoted the legislation with a media blitz that denounced alleged cases of animal abuse.
In a prominent case last year, a circus in the eastern state of Yucatan was fined more than $50,000 after it removed the lower jaw of its black bear, Invictus.
The Green Party argues that the law "sets a precedent for the respect and protection of animals."
But Leonora Esquivel, co-founder of the international animal welfare group AnimaNaturalis, said the law is limited because it does not apply to cock fights, bullfights and shows with marine animals.
While wild animals will no longer feature in circuses, Esquivel said Mexico needs to implement a new model for zoos to turn them into "fauna recovery centers."
A critic of the law, Ruben Escamilla, a lawmaker from the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, said the legislation offers no financial compensation to circus owners.
"There's a clear violation of private property," Escamilla said.
Cedeno said circus owners will launch legal bids to counter what they consider a "discriminatory" law that is based on "false propaganda."
- Final show -
The Cedeno Brothers held their final show with animals on Monday.
"Don't take the animals away!" the crowd shouted, after the tigers formed a pyramid and jumped through a fiery ring.
"It's pure grief," Cedeno said, wearing boots covered in dirt at the muddy circus grounds.
"Don't stop coming to the circus even though we no longer have tigers. Don't let us die," he said before shutting himself inside his caravan.