People Are Furious This Controversial Animal Show Is Returning To Vegas
"The permanent homes of Arthur’s cats are cement cells."
On a blue-lit stage, a man in a red coat ripped the drape off of a glass cage, revealing a large, white tiger inside.
“This is Frosty, ladies and gentleman,” said the man, as he opened the cage to pet the tiger, who was wearing a metal chain around her neck. “Frosty is a 1-year-old snow tiger. Isn’t she beautiful?”
The tiger swayed back and forth in the cage, looking confused. But the audience didn’t seem to notice — they cheered and clapped as dance music blared.
This scene was included in a video released in 2015 by Animal Defenders International (ADI). The man in the red coat was Dirk Arthur, and the clip was taken during a performance of one of his controversial exotic animal shows at Harrah’s Casino in Reno, Nevada.
Frosty’s debut isn’t the only upsetting scene in the video. In another clip, a different tiger paces back and forth in a small, fenced-in cage at the holding facility where Arthur keeps his animals during the large stretches of time when they’re not performing. Besides Frosty, Arthur is said to own 13 other animals, including Bengal tigers, ligers (hybrids between a male lion and female tiger), snow leopards, panthers and bobcats.
In another part of the video, a caged tiger roars in fright as a flash of theatrical fire erupts beside him.
Arthur, who has been performing in the Las Vegas area since the late ’90s, is often touted as an animal welfare advocate who promotes the humane and proper care of his animals. Yet Christina Scaringe, general counsel for ADI, believes that Arthur’s treatment of animals is anything but humane.
“These shows require animal transport to be convenient and affordable [for the humans] for them to remain profitable,” Scaringe told The Dodo. “It’s not about what’s best for the animals.”
“As you can see from ADI’s undercover video, the permanent homes of Arthur’s cats are cement cells, and to bring the animals to these shows for a few minutes onstage, they will endure six hours in tiny travel cages and prop boxes,” she added. “Once onstage, bright lights and noise add to their suffering. It’s not about what the animals need and there’s nothing natural about it.”
Frosty’s very existence also suggests animal mistreatment. “White tigers” like Frosty are not a natural species, let alone the “endangered” species they’re often marketed as, but the product of dangerous captive inbreeding. As a result, these animals are often plagued with medical problems, such as crossed eyes, spine issues and kidney complications.
It’s also questionable how the big cats are trained for Arthur’s shows, as virtually all captive tigers are trained to perform using violence and fear-based methods.
"In order to train a cat for a circus act like that ... it has to be done with fear and pain," Susan Bass, PR director for Big Cat Rescue, told The Dodo in 2015, when a Hollywood-favorite animal trainer was filmed aggressively using a whip with a young tiger during training. "They're either going to use whips like they did in that video, or they sometimes use tasers electrocuting the cats, and it's all fear-based."
"Once the cats have been quote-unquote trained to perform, even when the trainers are in the arena with the cats years later, it's just the fear of seeing that whip or electric cattle prod in the trainer's hand that makes them perform," Bass added.
While the ADI video didn’t include footage of training sessions, Arthur has been citied for numerous Animal Welfare Act violations by the USDA for the treatment of his animals. These include violations for declawing lions and tigers — a serious surgery that can lead to lifelong health problems in big cats — keeping a snow leopard in a rusty cage, chaining a bobcat in a dangerous way and keeping animals in too-cramped conditions.
In 2016, animal lovers rejoiced when Arthur’s show at Westgate Casino in Las Vegas was abruptly canceled for unknown reasons. But now, much to their dismay, the show is set to return to the same venue next month.
“It’s really disappointing that the venue has brought back the act again,” Angie Greenaway, executive manager for ADI, told The Dodo.
In Arthur’s forthcoming show, he will only use two animals, a snow leopard and bobcat — but this hasn’t quelled concerns about the animals’ welfare.
“Both are victims of their own magnificence, illegally killed for their fur and body parts,” Scaringe said. “These shows trivialize and contribute to the wildlife trafficking issue. If we are serious about protecting wildlife, then we must begin with our own contribution, ending shows such as this, which portray wild species as toys and props that can be stored away in concrete cells, travel crates, and prop boxes for a moment of human ‘entertainment.’”
“Exotic cat acts once dominated the Las Vegas scene, but times have changed,” Scaringe said. “A growing number of Americans are turning their back on inhumane entertainment, understanding that wild animals belong in the wild, not on the [Las Vegas] strip. ADI urges Westgate Casino to drop Dirk Arthur’s cat acts once and for all.”
UPDATE 11/2/2017: Westgate Casino has announced that Dirk Arthur will no longer be using a snow leopard and bobcat in his upcoming show, which will commence on November 15th. “'ADI is delighted that Westgate dropped Arthur’s cruel exotic cat act; we hope it will adopt a permanent ‘no wild animal acts’ policy," Christina Scaringe, general counsel for Animal Defenders International (ADI), said in a statement. "Public attitudes are changing, and as people become aware of the inherent suffering, they turn away from exotic animal acts. It’s time for Dirk Arthur to do the same, and retire his animals to sanctuary.”