Wildlife: Velcome to Delusionland

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Dispatches, March 1997

Wildlife: Velcome to Delusionland

To the chagrin of conservationists, Siegfried and Roy open a big-cat zoo
By Paul Kvinta

E A R   T O   T H E

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Delgadillo,
Thank you for your letter regarding the Texas eagle. I share your view that the urgent problem of species protection and the conservation of biological diversity should be addressed.”

–Vice-President Al Gore, in response to a letter asking him to help save the Texas Eagle, Amtrak’s Dallas-to-San Antonio train, slated for shutdown this spring.

“What man has destroyed,” declares Roy Horn, the brunet half of the outrageously coiffed illusionist duo Siegfried and Roy, “we are attempting to resurrect in the Secret Garden.” That may be, but according to most experts, the $18 million pseudo-zoo that the pair opened in Las Vegas at the beginning of this year is a far cry from true species conservation. Not that the place
has any glaring shortcomings. In fact, strolling the awning-covered walks around roaring waterfalls and shimmering lagoons, taking in canned bird squawks and African drums while you move among its seven distinct “habitats,” you might even forget that you’re on the infamous Strip–until you catch a glimpse of neon twinkling through the fern and sumac leaves.

But the bigger problem has to do with what’s coming over the complimentary headset, which provides information on the “endangered” big cats, including the white tigers that Siegfried and Roy have bred and used in their act for years. According to Ron Tilson, who runs a conservation group called the Siberian Tiger Species Survival Plan, white tigers are simply a genetic anomaly,
not an endangered species. “To pass them off as a special type of tiger is abhorrent when you consider the inbreeding that goes on to keep them around,” says Tilson, who adds that an abnormal gene turns about one in 10,000 tigers white. “This is just a crass way of using tigers for profit.”

Nonetheless, the ever-glistening showmen remain convinced of the project’s righteousness. “We wanted to create a natural habitat in which each and every creature could breathe pure air, drink from crystal waters, and live free of danger,” says Horn. “It’s a most special place.”

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