Illustration from Owenhouse presentation
Is a parking lot a block from the Las Vegas Strip anywhere for a tiger sanctuary?
Illusionist Jay Owenhouse is betting on it.
“It’s been mentioned that the Las Vegas tiger habitat is in a parking lot and that tigers shouldn’t live in a parking lot,” Owenhouse said Tuesday during a virtual town hall meeting on his proposal for the animal attraction. “To that I just say that everything that is built in Las Vegas is on a parking lot.”
At a time when attractions that feature captive wildlife are falling out of favor with consumers, thanks to documentaries such as Blackfish, the Clark County Commission is considering allowing a vanishing tiger show to take up residence at the congested corner of Sahara and Paradise, where the tigers would be subject to noise from the Las Vegas Monorail, 24-hour traffic, seasonal explosions of fireworks, and extreme heat.
Owenhouse, who once had approval for a similar plan at a less residentially-dense location near Mandalay Bay, wants a 12-month use permit for “a recreational facility with inherently dangerous exotic animals consisting of a fabric structure (tent) and tiger sanctuary,” the zoning agenda item says.
The tent would accommodate an audience of 500, and a performance that includes Owenhouse, his four children, and three tigers.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Owenhouse purchased two 8-month-old tigers in April 2019 from Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a tiger breeder featured in the Netflix program Tiger King. Antle is currently facing a felony charge for wildlife trafficking.
When the tigers are not performing, they’d be housed in a “sanctuary” consisting of metal cages, Owenhouse said during the town hall, conducted by Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who represents the area. The commission is slated to decide Wednesday whether to approve the use permit.
“I’ve been a passionate, passionate animal advocate for over 30 years, long before it was really fashionable,” Owenhouse said.
But opponents say animal attractions designed for the sheer enjoyment and monetary gain of humans are no longer en vogue.
“This type of animal act is outdated and has no place near the Las Vegas Strip, as evidenced by recent decisions made by several Las Vegas landmarks such as Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand, and the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, which have all rejected magic acts involving tigers,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a letter urging commissioners to deny the use permit.
Daniel M. Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) wrote the County Commission in opposition and alleged Owenhouse made “false and misleading statements” suggesting the project secured the services of an AZA- endorsed veterinarian.
“Its intended use of tigers in the illusionist show by Mr. Owenhouse would never qualify for AZA accreditation under our accreditation standards,” Ashe wrote, adding the organization doesn’t endorse veterinarians.
Others oppose the project because they say it perpetuates the cub-petting industry immortalized in Tiger King, in which babies are taken from mothers, used to sell photos and souvenirs, and eventually sold or discarded when they become too old, too dangerous, and too expensive to feed.
“No animal welfare will ever be good enough for these animal abolition organizations,” said Mindy Patterson, the founder of the Cavalry Group, a national organization that “defends animal enterprise.”
“And I hope that the county commissioners will not bend to the will of these animal abolition groups that show up with nothing but emotion and zero facts about what is really taking place with Owenhouse and his illusion magic show and the care of his tigers, which is exemplary and outstanding,” she said during the town hall.
Owenhouse promised the facility, which is adjacent to a number of apartment complexes, would be patrolled by security 24 hours a day. The cost of a security guard in Las Vegas, according to a variety of sources contacted by the Current, ranges from $25 an hour for a basic guard to $70 an hour for an experienced armed guard. That’s a minimum cost of $18,000 in a 30-day month for one guard.
Clark County Planning Director Nancy Amundsen said her department recommended denial of the project based on the heavily traveled location, the proximity to homes, and concern for the safety of the animals.
She suggested the applicant meet with neighbors and Metro Police to assuage their concerns.
Owenhouse and his attorney, Robert Gronauer, did not respond to requests for comment.
“The last 30 years I’ve traveled the country and the world with my animals, performing in front of over a million people and have a perfect safety record,” Owenhouse said.
For longtime Las Vegans, the proposal conjures memories of the most notorious tiger attack in U.S. history – Montecore’s on-stage mauling of Roy Horn during a 2003 performance at the Mirage in Las Vegas.
“Siegfried and Roy had a perfect record,” Jeff Dixon of the Humane Society of the United States said at the town hall. “Until they didn’t.”
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