The popular UniverSoul Circus, which has been drawing big crowds to its traveling big top since 2005, has filed a lawsuit against the city over the Health Department's sudden refusal to grant permits this year. At issue is the circus's practice of keeping its tigers in cages, which officials contend are too small and inhumane. The city also alleges that three of UniverSoul's African elephants haven’t been tested for tuberculosis in the past year.

“The animal housing for both species was found to be inadequate to protect the safety of the public and the primary enclosures of the tigers was determined insufficient to allow for adequate freedom of movement,” the NYC Department of Health decided earlier this month.

UniverSoul maintains in its lawsuit that "the enclosures for tigers and elephants currently maintained by SCI [Soul Circus International] and that SCI intends to use at other sites in the city, comply with all known rules and regulations governing animal enclosures." The lawsuit seeks an injunction barring the city from "interfering with their possession and use of wild animals."

Unless the injunction is granted, the circus will move on to Brooklyn and Queens next month without the animals. The DOH refusal to grant the permits comes in the wake of steady criticism from PETA, which last year published photos and reports from a UniverSoul whistleblower describing "highly inappropriate, unnatural, and abusive" treatment of the animals.

A representative of the City Law Office tells the Daily News, "We have been in active discussions with UniverSoul Circus representatives in the hope of finding a resolution."