When it comes to having animals on the Strip, the City of Las Vegas isn’t a stranger to the controversy surrounding the idea.
For decades, animal acts on the Strip have drawn crowds and criticism. There’s even an active campaign to release the dolphins at the Mirage.
And when Dirk Arthur and his big cats returned to the Riviera, protestors were awaiting their arrival. His show has since moved to the Westgate.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Arthur is one of only three illusionists in the country that use big cats. Arthur has been cited several times for violating the Animal Welfare Act.
Many show producers have found ways to entertain guests with live music or impressive acrobatics instead of using wild animals.
David Saxe has been producing shows in Las Vegas for more than twenty years.
“I’ve had animals in the shows, I’ve had tigers and lions — everything,” Saxe said.
Saxe’s sister was a dancer in Siegfried and Roy’s show. The pair performed to sold out shows for years at the Mirage until Roy was severely injured during an act on stage.
The MGM was criticized for years over its captive lions, but the company eventually shipped them to a sanctuary and built a nightclub in what was once their enclosure.
But decades before Sigfried and Roy and before the MGM’s captive lions there was a magician named Bobby Berocini.
“If you see old footage of the orangutans — Bobby Berocini was the very first. It was really an amazing act, but then you saw the video,” Saxe said.
The video Saxe was referencing shows Berocini abusing the apes in his show. Peta protested; the show was canned, and his wildlife permit was pulled.
Saxe says working with wild animals is costly and risky.
“I have seen scenarios when I think, ‘I dont think they should do that,'” Saxe said. “You don’t want to see animals forced to do something they don’t want to do.”
Greg Popovich features domestic rescued shelter pets at the V Theater. The days of big cats on stage are far and few between. And Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will phase out elephants in its shows by May of 2016.
In the meantime, Sea World remains in the crosshairs over its captive-performing Killer Whales.