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Exposed: The Miserable Lives of the Last Exotic Animal Act on The Las Vegas Strip

by David Thompson Wednesday, Sep. 09, 2015 at 2:26 PM

The last exotic animal act exposed in Las Vegas

Exposed: The Miserab...
dastand.jpg, image/jpeg, 651x1024

September 9, 2015 LAS VEGAS, NV—Animal Defenders International (ADI) new video shows the extreme confinement and environmental deprivation suffered by exotic cats used as props in Dirk Arthur’s “Wild Magic” show, which opened recently at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino.

Once the Las Vegas Strip was dominated by acts featuring lions and tigers, but, like animal acts in circuses, the public have largely turned their back on them. The new video from ADI shows why. Today there is one left, Dirk Arthur’s “Wild Magic” - it’s time for Dirk to change his act.

The video was compiled from ADI observations in 2011, 2014 and 2015 of the Dirk Arthur compound where the animals are housed and performances, including Harrah’s Hotel Casino in Reno Nevada, and O’Shea’s, Riviera and Westgate Casinos in Las Vegas.

The controversial show has a history of animal welfare violations, and has been condemned by animal care experts as well as a former Las Vegas animal illusionist. ADI calls on the venue to cancel this last exotic cat act in Las Vegas.

The white tigers, snow leopard, and panther appear for only minutes onstage, but for this endure around six hours a day in tiny travel cages and prop boxes barely larger than their bodies. The travel cages that the big cats spend almost a third of their day confined in are just 3 feet wide by 3 feet high by 5 feet long – about the length of a bathtub.

ADI video released today also shows that, when not performing, the animals are warehoused in a series of small cement and chain link cells in Dirk Arthur’s backyard in a residential area of Las Vegas. Each of the 13 large cats (per a July 22, 2015 USDA inspection report includes Bengal tigers, snow leopards, a panther, and a bobcat) live in cages approximately 7 feet high by 8 feet square. A tiger’s natural range varies from 12 to almost 300 square miles. The tigers were observed performing abnormal, repetitive, stereotypic behaviors, which experts consider are indicative of stress and poor welfare.

Arthur’s previous act at the Harrah’s Hotel Casino raised concerns such as animals being tethered and blasts of flame near a tiger’s face. During the current show, animals are also tethered and confined in prop boxes.

“Audiences of magic shows accept they are being tricked and it is not really magic, but in this case they are being duped about the welfare of these animals. There is nothing humane about keeping tigers and other big cats crammed in tiny travel cages for hours on end and spending their lives warehoused in a backyard,” said ADI President Jan Creamer. “Reducing these beautiful, intelligent exotic cats to magic props shames us all. Dirk Arthur needs to follow the lead of other magicians who have retired their tigers and continued successfully without them.”

“It appears in the video many of the cats are pacing, in this case it is clearly from stress and boredom. With such small cages packed in like sardines it would require a lot of enrichment to mentally stimulate them,” said Dr. Justin Boorstein, DVM with 10 years exotic cat experience at Big Cat Rescue. “As I see with many of our rescues and trips to the vet, transporting a big cat is stressful. It can also be dangerous to the public if they were to get into an accident, have faulty caging or have an unloading/loading accident. Every time you move a dangerous animal you need to have a disaster plan for the worst case scenario.

An ADI undercover team that infiltrated another magic act, The Fercos Brothers, found animals there were forced into a small space at the bottom of cages to make them “disappear.” While we can admire the flexibility of human assistants who volunteer to “magically disappear,” it is no way to treat a wild animal. This trick requiring such close confinement is revealed in a segment of Fox’s “Breaking the Magician’s Code, Magic’s biggest secrets finally revealed.”

“Times have changed and it’s just appalling how these animals live on concrete, from box to box to box. They’ve got a miserable life and it’s really a terrible form of abuse.” Jonathan Kraft, former Las Vegas performer with big cats, now Founder and Director of Keepers of the Wild and Wild Planet sanctuaries:

Dirk Arthur has been cited numerous times by the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), including a 2013 citation at Harrah’s casino in Laughlin, Nevada for failure to provide adequate veterinary care after he declawed two juvenile tigers and a juvenile lion. This painful, often debilitating procedure amputatesprocedure amputates part of each of the cat’s toes and commonly leads to chronic health problems; declawing is prohibited by the USDA, and is not permitted under the Animal Welfare Act, since 2006. The AVMA condemns declawing exotic and other wild indigenous cats for nonmedical reasons.

USDA also cited Arthur for hazards related to a snow leopard’s caging condition and a bobcat entangled in his own neck chain and fencing. Arthur has been previously cited for enclosures that are too small to allow cats “normal postural and social adjustments and adequate freedom of movement,” including the ability to exercise. After these citations were issued, Caesars Entertainment pledged to not again host Arthur’s show at the Harrah’s Casino. ADI video reveals Arthur’s cats remain in extreme confinement.

Abnormal, repetitive, stereotypic behavior has been observed in wild animals confined to small cages in other industries as well. ADI’s 2010 investigation of the Finnish fur industry revealed foxes and mink enduring similar close confinement suffer behavioral abnormalities, such as repeatedly circling their cages, which indicate they are not coping well with captivity.

“In the past decade Las Vegas has transformed and now showcases the finest human acts in the world, it’s time for Dirk to do the right thing, change his act, and retire the animals.” Linda Faso, ADI volunteer representative, Las Vegas, NV

The most famous Las Vegas exotic cat act - Siegfried and Roy – abruptly ended their run at the Mirage in September 2003 after Roy was attacked by a tiger. The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino removed their lion display in 2012 and veteran Las Vegas magician Rick Thomas retired his exotic cats the same year. Dirk Arthur is the last holdout. Exotic cat acts along the Las Vegas Strip have been replaced by highly popular animal-free human performances such as Cirque du Soleil, which reflect the wishes of educated modern audiences.

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