Meraas, the owner and operator of Dubai food truck park brand Last Exit, has closed a controversial travelling circus as it refused to remove lions from its show.
The Latino Circus, which boasts that it features “four white lions from Africa” and an “adorable dog show” was due to run until December 21 at Last Exit Al Khawaneej, one of four Last Exit branches across Dubai.
White lions are extremely rare — there are estimated to be less than 300 white left worldwide.
Their colour is due to a rare recessive mutation, which causes the lion’s coat to vary from almost white to blonde, rather than the normal tawny shade. A cub is only born white if both of its parents carry the recessive gene.
Earlier this week, Last Exit asked for the animal acts to be removed from the show following a backlash from residents unhappy with their use in the show.
However, a post on Last Exit Dubai's Facebook page by Casey McCoy Cainan, who appears to be a lion tamer with the circus, suggested the circus had no plans to carry out the request.
It is understood that The Latino Circus ultimately refused to follow through, prompting Meraas to take further action.
The operator of Last Exit has now shut the circus until further notice.
In an emailed reply to Dr Kirstie Lawton, a moderator of the People for the Protection of Animals Facebook group, a customer service representative from Meraas said “our communities are at the core of what we do at Last Exit.
“The animal acts in the circus at Last Exit Al Khawaneej have upset some members of our community.
“We care about and share their sentiments and as a result we have closed the circus temporarily until further notice.”
Dr Lawton said the group first heard about the circus at the start of the week and decided the best way forward was to tackle the issue through negative Facebook reviews. Members of the group were among dozens who took to social media to protest about the circus, flooding Last Exit's Facebook review page with comments.
"We are delighted that Meraas have listened and made the decision to remove the animals from the show, although we are still concerned about the welfare of these animals. No wild animal should be forced to perform in a circus or for any form of human entertainment," she said.
Hind Almatrooshi, an Emirati animal activist from Sharjah, was central in the campaign to persuade Meraas to take stronger action against the circus. She got in touch with executives working there to share articles by The National on the topic, and some of the many negative Last Exit Facebook reviews.
“I said ‘it’s not locals only, it’s also foreigners who are upset with this show’. People are really against this,” she said.
Ms Almatrooshi, 35, said she was delighted that Meraas had changed its mind.
“We have been rescuing stray animals for years. We don’t have funds or support from any organisations and everything we do is voluntary. Hearing about the circus using live animals really upset us because we could not do anything. But finally we got them to listen to us - if we are united, we can do something.”
Meraas's reaction has been the strongest shown by any of the companies involved in staging the show yet since The National first reported on the issue on Sunday.
On Monday, ticket seller Platinumlist.net said it is looking into "contract exit clauses with the organiser," following a request for a comment about its promotion of the show.
“We also feel that it is completely unethical and cruel to use animals in circus performances,” the company said in a statement. The event is no longer included on the list of events on the website.
Last Exit was next to react by asking Eventoh Em, who run the show, to remove the lions on Tuesday.
However, Teddy Aouad, the manager of The Latino Circus, previously told The National that critics should "mind their own business", adding that anyone who eats meat had no right to be opposed to the show.
The lions received top billing in the circus, which included a performance of “amazing tricks under the watchful eye of an experienced trainer”, according to an advertisement.
White lions were hunted relentlessly after being spotted by Europeans, which led to them being declared extinct in the wild for a time. They have since been successfully reintroduced into parts of South Africa, but remain vulnerable.
The Latino Circus and Meraas have been contacted for comment.