Siegfried & Roy Attack Illustrates the Dangers of Exotic Pets

American Humane Association
Thursday, 9 October 2003

The recent attack of Roy Horn, 59, by a trained tiger is just one of many such attacks that occur each year and is a startling reminder that exotic animals like tigers should not be kept as pets, says American Humane.

On October 3, 2003, Roy Horn brought the 600-pound white tiger on stage during Siegfried & Roy's long-standing show at the MGM Mirage Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas strip. According to eyewitness accounts, the seven-year-old tiger, Montecore, attacked Horn, carrying the handler off the stage by the throat. Media reports indicate Horn remains in critical condition after suffering massive blood loss and a stroke.

"Exotic animals, even those bred in captivity and raised by hand, still maintain the natural instincts of their wild counterparts. Even in the hands of experienced handlers like Roy Horn, fatal accidents occur, which is why American Humane believes ordinary citizens should not keep exotics as pets," says Sharon O'Hara, American Humane's vice president of programs.

According to American Humane, when wild or exotic animals are kept as pets, the result is usually tragic for the animal and the owner. Improper or inadequate nutrition, confinement, veterinary care, and handling often result in negligence and suffering or death of the animal. Private individuals who keep exotic animals are also exposing themselves, their families, and neighbors to the possibility of attack. Click here to see American Humane's official position statement.

Just two days before Horn's attack, a Harlem man was hospitalized after he was mauled by a 400-pound tiger he had kept in his apartment for almost two years. In Texas alone, three children have been injured or killed by tigers in recent years.

"Exotics as pets is a growing problem in Texas and there is no end in sight," says Patricia Mercer, director of the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Mercer estimates there are at least 10,000 big cats in Texas alone. In the past three years, the Houston SPCA has handled 50 big cat cruelty cases. All but one of these big cats, which was euthanized for medical reasons, were placed in reputable sanctuaries, costing the SPCA $2,000 to $10,000 in placement fees per animal.

"Big cats especially have become abundant and plentiful. Five years ago you would have paid $5,000 for a tiger. Today, you can get one for less than $500," says Mercer.

The Houston SPCA receives so many exotic animals that two years ago they were forced to expand their facilities to accommodate them. Even so, Mercer says they are receiving so many that the SPCA been forced to change their admission policy.

"The Houston SPCA no longer accepts unwanted exotics. We, of course, continue to provide shelter to exotics that have been abused or neglected. But our feeling is that if you make the decision to purchase an exotic animal as a pet, then you should be held accountable for the long-term placement of that animal."

Jodi Buckman, American Humane's director of animal programs, says the Houston SPCA is not alone in their struggle.

"Shelters and local animal control agencies across the country are faced with exotic animal issues," says Buckman. "These organizations are generally designed to accommodate traditional companion animals and are ill-equipped to meet the challenge of providing proper care and housing to exotic animals."

Buckman further asserts that many communities lack local veterinarians or wild animal sanctuaries to provide professional counsel when issues arise.

According to Dr. Emily Weiss, curator of animal behavior at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, and an animal behavior consultant for American Humane, it is the ease with which exotic animals bond to people that has led to their popularity as pets.

"All the big cats, especially tigers, are very gregarious in their behavior and tend to be quite affectionate, which has increased their demand as family pets. However, unlike the family dog, an expression of play by a tiger can easily kill a person."

These are only a few of the reasons American Humane is advocating for the passage of federal legislation in the 108th Congress that would ban the interstate commerce of exotic animals for use as pets.

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act was introduced earlier this year by Sens. James Jeffords (I-VT) and John Ensign (R-NV) and Reps. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and George Miller (D-CA). While banning private citizens from keeping big cats as pets, the legislation exempts circuses, zoos, and other facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Already, 12 states ban private possession of large exotic animals, and seven states have partial bans. In the past, American Humane has contacted the USDA about tightening restrictions on licensees with exotic animals, as well as addressed the exotic pet issue at both the state and federal levels.

Although the Captive Wildlife Safety Act couldn't have prevented the attack on Roy Horn, it could protect others who attempt to keep or who are exposed to exotic animals, like the three-year-old boy in Lexington, Texas, who was killed by a pet tiger last October.

You can help by contacting your U.S. senators and representative and urging them to support S. 269 and H.R. 1006, collectively known as the Captive Wildlife Safety Act.

Remind your legislators that exotic animals kept as pets, even if they are captive bred and raised, are dangerous to people, particularly children. Remind them that captive exotics often suffer inhumane living conditions when they are in the hands of people unequipped to care for them.

For more information, or to contact American Humane Association, see their website at: www.americanhumane.org

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