Animal rights group PETA has asked U.S. authorities to bar Ringling Bros. Circus from importing eight tigers and an African leopard from Europe to Miami.

Delcianna Winders, director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said that she has appealed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reject the application of Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

"The whips that Ringling uses to force tigers to perform unnatural and meaningless tricks can't qualify as educational tools," Winders said.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act bans the importing of animals for such purposes, though it does permit certain exceptions in limited circumstances, such as for scientific ends or to improve an endangered species' chances of survival.

Ringling Bros., according to PETA, has said it qualifies for the second exception.

Nonetheless, PETA says that videos and other evidence in its possession show that Ringling Brothers "routinely beats tigers and other endangered animals in order to force them to perform and that it otherwise abuses and neglects these animals in flagrant violation of the ESA."

In its request to U.S. authorities, PETA said that on several occasions in September 2010 investigators in Sacramento, California, observed tigers in cages without food or water.

PETA also alleges that during a secret investigation of that organization in 2009, "a Ringling trainer was videotaped beating tigers during dress rehearsals."

The video was included in the request presented to the FWS, and PETA said that the incident is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"According to Ringling's permit application, four tigers have died in the past five years as a result of the company's activities," PETA said.

The organization also charged that since 1991 the USDA has cited Ringling Brothers for "27 violations of the Animal Welfare Act with respect to the care of big cats."