And tempers are now heating up in Mexico’s so-called “circus wars”, with the movement to ban all performing animals rousing anger among Big Top workers.
However, Armando Cedeno, head of Mexico’s circus owners association, claimed messages have been posted on social network sites urging people to attack circuses. He was speaking at a demonstration by circus performers earlier this week.
“We have a lot of threats on Facebook, with environmentalists urging people to go burn down circuses,” Mr Cedeno said at the protest in Mexico City’s main square at which circus entertainers put on a free show with horses and dogs.
A new city law prohibits all performances involving trained lions, tigers, elephants and other “wild” beasts.
Meanwhile Aguascalientes state legislator Gilberto Gutierrez, a member of Mexico’s Green party, claims circus fans have already resorted to violence.
He said security guards beat him and other animal rights activists in front of a circus in his state in late June. “They broke two of my teeth … it was a direct hit,” he said. “It was an attack by the circus people, by the guards they employ.”
The circus said the activists blockaded the circus entrance in Aguascalientes, where it is still legal to perform with exotic animals. Insults flew first, then fists and belts, the circus said.
Mr Gutierrez accepted protesters were posted in a narrow strip of pavement at the entrance but denied blocking the way. At least two security guards were detained over the clash.
There have been mutual accusations of illegal acts, including the release of a female giraffe which ended up galloping through a suburb of the northern city of Monterrey.
Video posted on social-media sites showed motorists swerving to avoid the panicked giraffe outside the Barley Circus, which accused animal rights activists of opening the pen so the giraffe could escape.
Barley Circus spokesman Isaac Vertiz said: “The giraffe is always let outside in the morning, and the keeper went back inside for a moment to get food for her.
“In the meantime, within five minutes, somebody went in and opened the pen and let her out.”
Mr Vertiz said someone also spray-painted circus trailers and tried to break into circus vehicles. He said he suspected animal rights activists.
Mr Gutierrez insisted activists had not acted illegally. “We will take this issue to its final consequences, without breaking the law,” he said.
Activists claim they are fighting the kind of abuses revealed in March after environmental inspectors raided a small circus in southern Yucatan and seized a black bear. It had its lower jaw and upper teeth largely ripped out or cut off, apparently to keep it from biting.
On the other side, circus people say they are closely regulated and inspected, and they feel the Mexico City ban, passed last month, unfairly singles them out. Mexico City and six of 32 states have now banned circus animals. The ban does not apply to shows with dolphins or bullfighting nor does it prohibit the use of animals in rodeos.