Tiger beat: Siegfried & Roy Tragedy puts big cats in center stage - News Debate

Tiger beat: Siegfried & Roy Tragedy puts big cats in center stage - News DebateAS THE LIGHTS in Las Vegas's Mirage Theater dimmed one night in early October, audience members leaned forward in their seats, eager to witness the magical stunts and costumed dancers of the famous Siegfried & Roy show. But most of all, the crowd wanted to see the secret of the show's success--dozens of rare white Bengal tigers.

When Roy Horn led a large tiger onstage, however, the night quickly went from spectacular to gruesome. Roy told the tiger to lie down, but the giant cat ignored him and sank its teeth into Roy's arm and then his neck, dragging the veteran performer offstage.

At first, audience members thought the grisly scene was part of the act, but they soon learned the truth. Roy was rushed to a hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. The tiger was locked up, and the longtime show was canceled. The tragedy cast a spotlight on a heated debate: Do tigers have any place in live shows?

Hello, Kitty

Yes, say fans of Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn's long-running show. They point out that the duo had safely performed their act about 30,000 times before last month's tragedy. In fact, Siegfried and Roy are well known for their loving relationship with tigers. 'Even after the attack, Roy looked out for his feline friends. Before being rushed to the hospital, he made a desperate plea: "Don't shoot the cat."

Supporters say the Siegfried & Roy show wasn't just about magic--it was about helping tigers. The pair supported tiger conservation efforts and even built a tiger habitat. "Siegfried and Roy had done more to educate and entertain people about the tiger ... than anyone else in the world," Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, told CNN.

Cat Trap

A trained tiger is a time bomb waiting to explode, critics say. They argue that tigers' killer nature is innate and that no amount of nurturing or training can change that.

"Captive breeding does not wipe away the effect of millions of years of evolution," said Richard Farinato of the Humane Society of the United States.

Animal-rights activists claim that the tragedy proves that live shows involving tigers violate the Animal Welfare Act, which requires exhibitors to ensure the animals' and the public's safety. They argue that if an accident like this can happen to someone as skilled as Roy, no one is safe.

The activists say tigers should be left in their natural habitats. "A brightly lit stage with pounding music and a screaming audience is not the natural habitat for tigers, lions, or any other exotic animals," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals officials wrote recently in a letter to Siegfried and Roy.

What do you think? Should tigers be used in live shows? Why or why not?

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Get Talking

Ask students: Have you ever seen a tiger in person? How did you feel? Were you scared?

Notes Behind the News

* Tigers are an endangered species. A century ago, there were 8 tiger subspecies and an estimated 100,000 tigers in the wild. Today, only 5 tiger subspecies remain and researchers estimate there are 5,000 to 7,500 tigers in the wild.

* The Siegfried & Roy show is famous for its white tigers. Contrary to popular belief, white tigers are not their own subspecies. They are an aberrant color variation of Bengal tigers, which are typically golden yellow with black stripes.

* The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are as many captive tigers in the United States as there are tigers living in the wild. Less than 10 percent of those captive tigers are kept in professionally run zoos and sanctuaries. The rest live in inadequate roadside zoos, circuses, traveling shows, and as pets in people's backyards and homes.

Doing More

* Nineteen states ban the private possession of large cats. Ask students: Why might people want a pet tiger? How might owning a tiger be dangerous for the owner and the tiger?

* Have students research the Animal Welfare Act's regulations for animals in live performances. Ask students: Did Siegfried and Roy violate the act? Why or why not?