If you've ever had the privilege of watching a lion being a lion on its home turf (even if the side of 'being a lion' you're most likely to see is usually some version of this), then a sight like this one hits you particularly hard. 

The unfortunate animals are Britain's last performing big cats, the feline chattel of a travelling circus, one of only two licensed to perform with wild animals in England. And the lions are not alone. Three tigers complete this sad circus inventory.

The plight of the cats hit the news earlier month when, with the circus tent all folded up for the season, they were trucked to an empty field in Aberdeenshire, Scotland for the winter. In store for them now are several frosty months in an enclosure and a small attached trailer preposterously referred to as the 'beast wagon'.

Animal welfare groups like Animal Defenders International are campaigning hard for laws that would see big cats in circuses banned for good across Britain – and recent video footage of the Aberdeenshire site released by the organisation provides solid evidence for why that should and must happen:

The tiger's frustrated pacing is a stereotypic behaviour that's common among captive animals whose natural behavioural patterns have been disrupted for long periods of time – and just like this haunting footage of the world's last thylacine from more than 80 years ago, watching it fills me with unease and sadness. I want to believe that anyone else watching it would feel the same. 

Cards on the table, I am no lion (or tiger) expert. But over the years, I have learned a good deal about these animals, much of it from people who spend their lives filming these predators in some truly wild corners of the globe. And if you'll grant me just a sprinkle of anthropomorphic leeway, I can tell you that African lions like to do a fair bit of loafing, but they're also mercurial, curious, sometimes almost breathtakingly brutal and yet also affably gregarious ... and always fascinating. I can also tell you that it is in their nature to live out their lives in complex and dynamic family units across territories that often stretch over hundreds of kilometres.

And you will learn none of these things from the unfortunate specimens pacing inside a 'beast wagon' on a field somewhere in Scotland. 

Happily, it seems that since this story made headlines, the Scottish government has agreed to "look carefully" at changing the law to ban circuses from using wild animals. Yet legislative change can take a notoriously long time – which is why it's reassuring to know that we don't need to wait on politicians to show circuses like this one that we refuse to be 'entertained' in this way. Unlike other multifaceted, complex threats facing lions (and tigers) in the wild today, this particular wrong can be righted, wherever a big cat is being goaded through a fiery hoop, by ordinary people not doing something. Just don't buy that ticket.

Top header image: Scott Nunemaker, Flickr