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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Animals in Entertainment: A Deadly Bad Idea

File Casinos’ Latest Lion Attack Under ‘Asking for Trouble'

Published 09/10/10
By Reed Parsell, content developer/editor

The Mirage has a garden and dolphin “habitat.” Mandalay Bay has a shark reef. MGM Grand has a lion exhibit.

Las Vegas has a problem, clearly, with animal exploitation.

The buzzwords for these exhibits are “education,” “research” and “preservation,” but the reality is less lofty. Visitors, many of whom take artless photographs or make inane jokes before stumbling off to the Strip’s next visual splash, don’t learn much. Research, whatever that means, is conducted in a completely artificial environment. What casinos hope to preserve, above all else, is the ability to trot out the animals for as long as possible, luring more wallets to their casinos, shows, restaurants and bars.

Every now and then, someone gets hurt. Seven years ago, one-half of Siegfried and Roy — it’s not relevant which half — nearly was mauled to death during a “magic” show at the Mirage. On Sept. 1 of this year, in an incident caught on video by two honeymooners from Montana, an animal trainer was attacked at the MGM and sustained leg injuries.

In between, Las Vegas casinos had several other animal vs. human encounters. Born Free USA’s Exotic Animal Incidents database — in which searches can be narrowed to particular species in specific states — refers to the following, with an unknown number of other encounters presumably unreported:

— “Gildah, an Asian elephant on exhibit with the Siegfried & Roy show, owned by ...” (Aug. 31, 2005)
— “Officials of the MGM Mirage Hotel were investigating the death of a dolphin ...” (July 5, 2008)
— “A female dolphin died at the Mirage Hotel in the Dolphin Habitat where she was ...” (Aug. 21, 2008)
— “Sgt. Pepper, a 2-year-old dolphin at the Mirage Hotel, succumbed to a lung infection ...” (June 3, 2009)

In the latest incident, animal watchers attempt to pinpoint the lion’s motivations.

“If that was an attack, it would’ve been over with in about five-tenths of a second,” the stubbornly defiant Jack Hanna, who seems to condone every animal captivity, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The lion “went over and was doing what I would consider to be like a teenager testing his boundaries," Dave Salmoni of Animal Planet said on CNN's “Rick’s List.” “He went in and said, ‘I know I’m not allowed to bite people, but I'm going to bite you and see what you can do back to me.’ ”

The MGM Resorts spokesman, Gordon Absher, said the lions are rotated into the exhibit only once a week — implying that they have no reason to be irritable — and added the trainer “is in good health and anxious to return to work.”

Reading a lion’s mind is a fool’s game. No one can do it —not the good-looking expert who yaks on TV, not even the sincere animal welfare activist, and certainly not casino officials who have a financial stake in the exploitation. Las Vegas offers enough visual stimuli without wild animal exhibits. Leave lions out of the ludicrousness.

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