The thorny history between Siegfried & Roy’s producers and the USDA sheds light on the struggle to obtain video evidence of the infamous tiger attack.
Thank you. Pleasure for us to be here tonight. It’s April 29th, 2003, and Siegfried and Roy are performing their usual Tuesday night show. Just five months from now, Monocor will attack Roy on this very stage. Tonight’s show, however, will go off without a hitch. Boy and I gonna do all the work, all right? Boy, when I found out that I was going to go to Las Vegas, I immediately knew I was going to buy a ticket to Siegfried and Roy. That’s Alan Maggot, a veterinarian from Raleigh, NC. She’s seeing the duo for the first time with her friend, Kay Carter Corker Stop playing games, kicking your supposed to disappear completely. Now you know, I hate to doing things halfway, please. But I’d seen them before just on television, and I thought boy, they look older than I thought it was close enough to kind of notice that we were maybe five or six people away from the stage. There was a space between the end of the table and the stage two. There was a gap, but a tiger can flat foot of 14 foot jump easy. Ellen notices these details because she actually works for the USDA as a supervisory animal care specialist. She overseas inspectors, just like David Neal in seven States and Ellen’s friend, Kay is an assistant regional director for the agency. But that’s not all. Tonight, there are nearly a dozen USDA employees sitting in the audience. OK, so like me, you’re probably wondering what are they all doing there? Could it be a coincidence? But what we’re about to do? We had to construct 3 solid walls, a platform strong enough to raise a three ton elephant 4 feet above the stage. Watching the show, Allen considers the possibility of disaster striking. I would be the last person to say that a tiger doesn’t perform bond with its handler, but I’d be the first person to say that that bond can be broken instantaneously by factors that you don’t realize. Ladies and gentlemen, the superstars of magic demystifying the Most Outstanding Act in show business, Big Frieda, Siegfried and Roy Siegfried and Roy Siegfried. It’s a very unusual relationship. You 2 have. I love Roy like my brother. They were as much performing. Animals as the animals they deployed. They knew the tricks they did, the tricks that stimulate the fantasy of the audience, because without fantasy there is nothing. This is wild things Siegfried and Roy. Las Vegas is more than a vacation destination. It’s also a prime location for professional events, dentists, insurance brokers, adult entertainers, and funeral directors all attend their own conferences in Vegas. On the morning of April 30th, 2003, at Sam’s Town Hotel in Gambling hall, about 100 people are attending something called the Big Cat Symposium. Hosted by the USDA, this event features sessions on topics like nutrition, tranquilization and methods for training large exotic cats. When I first hear about the big cat symposium, I wonder who would be there. Part of the faculty providing this symposium were government people like me and the others were well known in the industry that gives them a chance to talk to each other. VA veterinarian Allen maggot. Again, I was really excited to go to Las Vegas because I hadn’t been as an adult. I worked it so that I had a day on either side to do things so I went to see Siegfried and Roy. Before this symposium. They were really at ease. The animals seemed at ease. Did you have a thought that despite all that you know something could someday go wrong? Yeah, I did. Especially when when Roy was running with the tiger around the front of the stage showing it off. His hand through the collar, so I wasn’t surprised when he got bitten. But Oh my God, I’m so glad it wasn’t the night I was there. If you’ve ever seen a circus anywhere in the US, then you’ll remember how the performance ring is surrounded by a chain link fence. That fence is intended to protect the crowd from the animals, but at Siegfried and Roy show there is no physical barrier, and that’s part of the allure. For decades, the duo performed without a barrier and without incident on stage, but that track record doesn’t instill confidence in everyone at the USDA. Sometime before the attack in 2003. USDA Inspector Greg Wolin writes a memo recommending Siegfried and Roy be required to add a physical barrier. It’s hard to say who at the USDA sees this document, but we do know that typically Greg would have sent this memo to Bob Gibbons, another regional director for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Bob is wait for it. Also in the crowd watching the show the same night as Ellen. During the performance, Bob makes the same observation about the lack of a barrier. Now I tried to interview Bob but he never responded to my request. The USDA also declined on its behalf, and the agency did not answer a number of questions. We later submitted in writing. However, we do know what Bob sees during the show because he actually writes his own memo, which will become a part of David Neal’s investigation. In that memo, Bob States how he observes at least three instances when tigers are on stage and quote UN quote, not restrained in any manner. Meaning Bob doesn’t see a leash or even a hand holding a Tiger’s collar. Like Alan Bob is in Las Vegas for the big Cat symposium where he is actually presenting a session on how to follow the latest regulations. There was a lot of discussion about barriers amongst U.S. government folks because we were trying to get people to stop doing something we thought was really dangerous for both the public and the animals. And Siegfried and Roy were parading these animals around on stage without a permanent physical barrier between the audience and the public. I think there are a lot of people who operate for a long time under the false belief that they’re really in control. Carnian Nasser calls herself an animal protection attorney. She’s a research fellow at Harvard Law School and has worked on high profile legal cases, including one which you may have heard of. Three who pitched the wildlife trafficking case to federal prosecutors about Tiger King Joe Exotic, which resulted in several years of his imprisonment. Long before she attends law school, Carnian actually crosses paths with Siegfried and Roy. I was a teenager. I was. I think it was 19 and I went to Las Vegas with my dad and we went to see state grade and Roy and I was mesmerized. You know even for me, as somebody who had been involved in animal rights and animal advocacy since the age of 11. But I didn’t know what was lurking literally behind the curtain. Even back then, she notices there’s no physical barrier between the stage and the crowd. That approach has been part of Siegfried and Roy’s act. Since the 1960s, when one of their cats slept off stage and walked right past the Princess of Monaco. What a huge risk they were taking with the safety of your audience. the US Department of Agriculture enforces the Federal Animal Welfare Act and the Animal Welfare Act actually specifically states that. There has to be sufficient safety barriers between the viewing public and big cats who are being exhibited at all times, so it really is surprising and and and amazing that something else tragic didn’t happen until Roy’s accident. In your opinion, do you think it’s just luck that it didn’t jump into the audience and go after someone? I do. You’re talking about complex animals with very, very complex species specific needs to fulfill their physical and psychological welfare, and everyone has their breaking points. And when an apex predator has their breaking point, then there’s very very serious implications. Usually for anybody in the direct vicinity. Every single member of that audience was potentially at risk. If any of those big cats had decided to leave the stage, that’s Rachel Matthews, director of captive animal law enforcement at PETA, the world’s largest animal rights organization. Tigers in captivity are wild animals because they are no genetically different than the tigers, who are in the wild. All of their natural instincts are intact, so it should never be a surprise. When a powerful wild animal behaves like one and we can’t forget that the USDA was well aware that Siegfried and Roy were putting animals, the public and themselves at risk. By exhibiting these cats on a stage with absolutely no barrier at all, and had never taken any action to stop it, does the US Department of Agriculture, the USDA specifically regulate how far an animal has to be in that setting from an audience they’re supposed to. We’re supposed to make sure that in every setting where exotic animals are used that they’re safe distance, or at least there’s a barrier in between them and an audience member. But obviously in this case it didn’t happen. Lisa Lang, a spokesperson for PETA, appears on MSNBC a few weeks after Roy’s Tiger attack. PETA has long advocated for updating the laws that protect animals in America since 1966. The Animal Welfare Act has been revised several times, most significantly in 1985, when it expands the USDA’s jurisdiction to include animals that are exhibited to the public. These laws are rather particular. For instance, any tiger cub which interacts closely with the public, like when they’re held for photographs, must be less than 12 weeks old. Any older and they’re required to remain behind a barrier. Given what the law clearly states, it’s more than a little surprising that Siegfried and Roy Show was seemingly exempt from this rule for decades. The regulations themselves are pretty weak. They’re very minimal, but they’re designed to be flexible so that you can interpret them in a way to help animals, and that just hasn’t happened. There’s no definition for a barrier in our regulations, and it just says that you just have to prevent minimal risk of harm to the animal in the public. It doesn’t even describe how to approach minimal. Do you think of it as number of incidents? Or do you think of the catastrophic single incident you know? Is it minimal? If the animal could kill somebody? The question also came up, can people be a barrier? So when all of you were at the big cat symposium at that time, the USDA was actively discussing whether it should crack down on the barrier regulation. Is that correct? Yes, but you know, these are administrative rules. They’re not criminal, so you can’t really swagger there. And you know, arrest them. You can’t penalize them instantly, so you need to be persuasive. Puts you a little bit at odds with the welfare groups who want you to do something drastic really quickly. And it just it doesn’t work to try to hurry the government. I got. Right? Founded in 1980, PETA is an acronym which stands for people for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for decades. The group has remained aggressive in its position on entertainers like Siegfried and Roy. Peter believes that no animals should be used for entertainment. Whenever you see animals performing unnatural acts, such as balancing on balls or or jumping through rings of fire, you have to question what went on behind the scenes to make this animal do something that’s so outside of their normal lives that they would otherwise have in the wild. Vegas was the epicenter of wild animals being used as props, and there were shows like Siegfried and Roy and you know it is never OK to bring a tiger or any sort of wild animal and use them as a prop. So PETA needed to take out those players who were held up as the top of the industry. I can understand where they’re coming from, but that’s obviously some pretty fiery rhetoric, so it’s easy to see why a counterterrorism detective would explore whether Roy’s attack was plotted by animal rights activists. Anytime there is an animal escape or an attack, you will almost always see either the circus or people affiliated with it say oh animal rights activists did this. And it’s just not true. I mean, these are just animals behaving as they normally would. Despite their differences, representatives from PETA, the USDA, and Feld Entertainment sometimes end up sitting in the same room. It’s my understanding that animal rights activists attend the Big Cat symposium, but there’s one unofficial event they probably wouldn’t feel welcome at. On the night before the Symposium, Feld Entertainment actually held a reception, apparently for everybody who attended and that included USDA staff and inspectors. And at this reception they gave out Siegfried and Roy swag and that included stuffed animals and books and free tickets to the show. Ellen the USDA veterinarian, remembers bumping into her coworkers at the show as we were leaving, we noticed another table that had several USDA people. There and we were surprised ‘cause we didn’t know they were coming and then found out that they had gone to the physical enclosures where the animals lived. When they’re not performing and they ended up getting free tickets to the show. Now you’re not supposed to take any kind of a gift that’s greater than like $10 ever, so there was kind of a big deal about that. To some folks, this is more than kind of a big deal. It’s a clear example of corruption pay offs and freebies or tactics used by everyone from the mafia to lobbyists as a way of currying favor with politicians. OK, yeah, complimentary tickets to a magic show isn’t exactly a briefcase filled with unmarked $100 bills, but it’s not nothing. Here’s Lisa Lang from PETA again, while these USDA staffers were at the show again, they paid for by Siegfried and Ryan. The very entity they’re supposed to be inspecting and investigating, and saw that night how close these big tigers are allowed to come to the public, which is obviously a danger. And in this case. The USDA basically admitted that there was an ethics violation. Staff had to give back the gifts and actually pay Feld Entertainment for the tickets. the US Department of Agriculture is supposed to be regulating the welfare of the animals that are used in exhibition, but a senior USDA official even told PETA that the USDA wants to protect the businesses it regulates from disparagement. I mean, it comes down to money. In influence and Feld was the most well funded exhibitor that the USDA regulated. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages. Spell just proud to present. Ringling brothers and Barnum and Bailey. The greatest song. 5 decades after Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey merged into one circus, it is acquired by the businessman and concert promoter Irvin Feld. As a child, Irvine always loved the circus before opening his first drug store in 1938, he worked at traveling carnivals as a salesperson of quote, UN quote snake oil, or old time medicinal remedies. I read that fact on Feld Entertainment’s own website, which is an odd detail because these bottled potions were typically fake and frequently ineffective. The terms snake oil salesman now refers to pretty much anyone running a scam. I’m not saying anybody had felt entertainment as a con artist, but I do think it’s interesting that a self professed snake oil salesman built an empire and then returned to his carnival roots. Everything that we’ve done is a little bit of an offshoot of what the circus was back in the 50s or 60s or 40s. Ken Feld graduates from Boston University School of Management in 1970 and joins his father’s company shortly after they acquired the circus. I went from my last final exam full time into the circus and for the first couple years I literally went to every meeting. He told me not to say anything and. Dinner every night was a 3 hour event and he would smoke maybe 5 cigars, but he would rehash the entire day. Around 1980 Siegfried and Roy’s record deal with Feld Entertainment to scale up their show and make the duo the first headlining Magic Show in Las Vegas four years later in 1984, Irvine passes away and Ken is named the CEO of Feld Entertainment. When Siegfried and Roy moved The Mirage in 1990, Feld continues producing the show. Apart from the duo’s manager, Bernie Yuman Feld Entertainment remains the magician’s longest standing professional relationship. And it’s what I call non lingual entertainment. You don’t have to understand the language, it’s just do you have a heart and do you have a pulse? Under Ken Feld Entertainment’s revenue skyrockets to more than $1 billion. But as the company’s bottom line grows, so does criticism from PETA and other animal welfare groups. They all claim that the circus is run by Feld Entertainment, are hiding something sinister? Here’s a protester. Ringling won’t allow anybody to see how they train their animals. They do it in secrecy, so we’re trying to stop the cruelty that we believe is being inflicted on animals by the Ringling circus. For years, Feld Entertainment, whether several high profile incidents, including accusations that. Animal handlers discipline elephants with hooked sticks. Learning how to tamp down negative press is something can seemingly takes pride in, and we’ve always been. I think the best crisis managers when I started out, it was day to day and it’s like putting out fires and things like that. Some have felled inner tainment’s. Fiercest critics suggest the company is held to a different standard by the USDA. Here’s Carney and Nasser. Again, there has been a very problematic relationship between Feld Entertainment and the US Department of Agriculture is so clear that the smaller roadside zoos and the smaller circuses are subject to much more rigorous enforcement action than the big heavy hitters with the deepest pockets like Feld entertainment. Then we created void and we have the voluminous evidence of the agencies. Your lack of interest and participating in meaningful enforcement. Just going back to the earlier 2000s, the damage can’t be undone. In August 2004, nearly one year after Roy is attacked by Monocor, a Ringling brothers animal handler named Frank Hagen, gives a sworn affidavit to the USDA about an incident which takes place on July 12th, 2004. In the affidavit, Frank says that on that day a train carrying animals for Ringling brothers departs Phoenix, AZ for Fresno, CA. The summer heat is unforgiving. By 8:30 AM the next morning, it’s already 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To cool down the lions, Frank sprays them with a hose. As the train travels through the Mojave Desert, the temperature rises. Frank asks Ringlings Trainmaster to stop so that he can hose off the lions again, but that request is denied. About six hours later, when the train stops, Frank checks a box car. He discovers a 2 year old lion named Clyde is struggling to breathe within minutes the lion dies. Not long after the train pulls into Fresno lawyers representing Feld Entertainment arrived. According to Frank’s affidavit, one lawyer tells him not to talk to anyone about what happened. Frank claims he is also instructed by the circus general manager. To quote UN quote, keep his ******* mouth shut. Less than a week later, Frank is fired. His termination supposedly has to do with a hiccup during a show and not the incident with Clyde the Lion. Talking to the media, a spokesperson for Ringling Brothers says, quote UN quote. We have nothing to hide here. The spokesperson also states there are discrepancies between Frank’s recollection and the company’s understanding of what happened. Clyde was denied water and died. He overheated in the desert and the USDA’s investigators were recommending aggressive penalties against Ringling Brothers. But the USDA has very very very broad authority even to do nothing and to sit on a camp. This brings us back to the big cat symposium in 2003. That unofficial reception where USDA employees accept free tickets and swag isn’t the only controversy. The Big Cat Symposium was supposed to spread information to exhibitors and other licensees who have big cats and. Really alarmingly, the USDA tapped Feld Entertainment to actually lead discussions on transporting big cats, even though filled, had been repeatedly cited for the conditions of its box cars. In one case in the 90s, one of their box cars got so hot that a tiger actually ripped the door off of a cage, trying to escape and broke their teeth in the process. And yet, the USDA tapped Feld Entertainment to be telling others how to transport. Big cats. In the decade leading up to Clyde’s death, the USDA issues at least 5 citations to Ringling Brothers for endangering animals in transit and what’s truly bananas is that in one of those cases, the USDA investigator, who shows up to examine what happened, is someone we already know. Yellow hi, it’s David there. No, he laughed. Where did he go? Who knows how you doing? Yep, that’s right. Before he’s called to investigate the Siegfried and Roy Tiger attack. David Neal conducts another investigation involving Feld Entertainment. Member, I had to go pricing on the railroad across the desert and I believe Feld entertainment lawyers were already there. Sort of waiting and ready to talk with you. Is that correct? Correct, they had already rented a conference room at a local hotel. I mean they were there present during the interviews with the employees that we were interviewing. Is that unusual in years that I had did investigations, that was. Probably one of the first or second time ever. They were just trying to make sure that they weren’t blindsided and went to court. Ringling Brothers is clearly adept at crisis management, but Rachel Matthews with PETA says that when it comes to the incident with Clyde the lion, the circus crossed the line. The circus obstructed the USDA’s investigation. It wouldn’t turn over veterinary records or Clyde necropsy and ruling even installed fake misters in the boxcar before the USDA could inspect as a ruse. And what’s a fake, Mr. So big cats? They don’t really sweat and to cool off they either pant or they need to submerge themselves in water. So a Mr. In theory would be something that the circus would be able to spray to cool off the animals, and so Ringling installed them, but they weren’t hooked up. They didn’t work. Luckily, the people who inspected didn’t actually fall for it. This all came out in records from the investigation of Clyde. Death, where the investigators actually did investigate and put together a case and recommended that the USDA take action against Ringling, but the agency ultimately chose not to. So Feld Entertainment is in the midst of overseeing the circus that’s being investigated by the USDA for the death of Clyde, and that same month lead investigator on the Siegfried and Roy Tiger attack is having issues getting his hands on the tape of the attack. Do you think it’s going too far to try to tie these two things together? Which is to say that Feld Entertainment is trying to keep the USDA at arm’s length? That’s absolutely right, and that wasn’t the only thing that was going on with Feld Entertainment. At the time. You know there were other very serious incidents that happened in the summer of 2004, all within a few weeks of Clyde dying. There was an 8 month old elephant named Ricardo who was euthanized after he fell from a pedestal during a training accident and broke both legs and that was being investigated as well. Why, from your perspective, do you think the Las Vegas Police Department is getting vastly different treatment than the USDA lead investigator? One of the most likely explanations is that Ringling and Siegfried and Roy realized that their careers, their licenses were potentially at stake. Because of the way they had handled animals, it was it was dangerous. It it put people in harm’s way and that was something that we saw repeatedly with Feld Entertainment. They would do what they could to obstruct the USDA’s investigations of horrible things that happened to some of the animals that they were supposed to be caring for. Rachel is referring to claims made by PETA that Feld Entertainment misled federal regulators. In Clyde’s case, as well as the 2004 incident with Ricardo the elephant. Peter sent our team hundreds of pages of documents about these cases in a 2011 letter to the USDA’s General Counsel. PETA alleges that a circus trainer lied to the USDA about Ricardo’s death. Specifically, this letter claims that the trainer told regulators Ricardo had not yet started training. However, during court testimony, the trainer admitted the elephant died during training. He also confirmed that he used a bullhook on the animal called an elephant code. This rod looks like a fireplace poker with a sharpened metal point. According to the magazine Mother Jones, during Ken Feld’s testimony for this case, the CEO confirmed that Ringling used Bullhooks in its training, even though the company had previously denied this practice for years. Here’s attorney in Harvard fellow Carney and again. So what’s happened in the Feld entertainment and Ringling brothers cases? All those horrific incidents of a gregis lack of attention or intentional infliction of abuse on animals is that the USDA Office of the General Counsel sat on those cases did nothing, and let the statute of limitations run. The USDA never wanted to be the agency that was tasked with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. It didn’t want this job from the very beginning. From my perspective as an observer of how the USDA operates is that. They did not want to go up against the deep pocket of Ringling brothers. Feld Entertainment has a reputation for how it treats people who seek to hold its feet to the fire for any of its misconduct. Ken Feld appears on PBS shortly before he announces the closing of Ringling Brothers. The most important thing is core values and at the end of the day, we all only have one thing. We have a reputation. USDA investigators recommend levying penalties against Feld Entertainment for the 2004 incidents, but the agency fails to enforce them, so the company never responds in any official capacity. We reached out to filled entertainment with a long list of questions and they responded, saying, quote UN quote, we are not interested in participating. In this instance, I don’t know their side of the story. However, I do know that in 2011 Feld Entertainment agrees to a settlement with the USDA for other violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Feld Entertainment deny any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay $270,000, which is the largest ever penalty under the Act. That’s a small sum for a billion dollar company that has spent millions on lobbying the government. These deep pocketed exhibitors get their federal legislators involved to pressure the agency, and that’s what happened. David Neal deals with this during his investigation into Roy’s attack in April 2004. David subpoenas Feld Entertainment for a copy of the video tape. At some point, he gets a call from a USDA lawyer, who tells him I’ve got good news and bad news. I said, what’s the good news? He says the secretary knows your name, which didn’t bother me. He’s referring to the Secretary of Agriculture and Venom and a member of President George W Bush’s cabinet now. Here’s the bad news. Then you said that the senators from Nevada said that if we kept pushing it for the release of the tape of the attack and it would be buried in legislation. Buried in legislation. This all may sound unbelievable, but Nevada Senator Harry Reid actually drafts an amendment to a spending bill which specifically mandates that federal funds cannot be used to subpoena this very tape due to privacy. The bill eventually passes without the amendment, but that’s besides the point. Acts of political theater are often shameless, but this tactic seems outrageous enough that I have to wonder how common is it? I don’t think very common at all, but I did it because I was trying to save Las Vegas. Any embarrassment and that is Senator Harry Reid. We interviewed Senator Reid last year a few months before he passed away at age 82. He told us his main concern is privacy, especially for the duo. Tremendously important in Nevada because they really drew the crowds and they entertained very very well. I think they were part of making this city what it is today so I wanna make sure that we did everything we could to make sure that they didn’t do anything to hurt Las Vegas. They meaning authorities and animal rights groups could have raised a lot of hell. We were able to stop that. I appreciate how publicly airing a tape like this could jeopardize the use of performing animals, especially in Vegas. But the political posturing seems pretty bold. So I spoke with Larry Noble, who headed up the Center for Responsive Politics back when Harry Reid drafted his amendment. Larry tells me less conspicuous measures could have been taken to safeguard the tape and still provide the USDA with a copy. But Senator Reed tells us he never considers another alternative. Well, it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and decide what could have been done or should have been done. But we did what we did and I think it’s held up. With the passage of time as being the right thing to do. David Neal doesn’t feel that it was the right thing to do. He also reminds me that this accident could have been much worse during his investigation, David gathers the memos written by his USDA colleagues, who call out the lack of a barrier to protect Siegfried and Roy’s audience. So since they cream, Roy was such a big draw, the USDA didn’t want to fight with them about a situation like that. So they just let it be. But if Loncor would have jumped down and attack people in the audience, we would had a heck of a mess. If you were suddenly put in charge of the USDA and how it runs its investigations. How would you change the way the agency does things? It would be entirely different the way it is now, that’s for sure. How so? I would rather not go into it, Steven. This is not the only arena in the United States where billionaires have access to a different type of justice. There are a number of people who I know personally at the USDA who are doing the best that they can in a very broken system, and I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been to be. One of the investigators and inspectors on any of those filled entertainment investigations and to go and do such thorough work and then to have. Your colleagues sit on it and do nothing. As I mentioned before, Feld Entertainment declined to comment for this podcast when we sent a list of questions to the USDA, a Rep responded via email, saying quote UN quote. It has been quite difficult for us to recall and even retrieve information to answer many of your questions. For instance, we ask them point blank why the USDA tapped Feld Entertainment to present a session at the Big Cat Symposium on transporting animals, despite their track record. But the agency provided no response, so I can’t say a whole lot more about the dynamic between the USDA and Feld Entertainment. Now, just to be clear, Siegfried and Roy aren’t involved with how Feld runs its circuses, but it’s hard to believe the duo didn’t hear something about all of the incidents, legal issues, and criticism. So I have to wonder why the duo choose to remain in business with felt. After all, Siegfried and Roy build an entire brand around their love of tigers. 15 years ago, as we started our white tiger breeding program. No one really sappy, but we just successful, but they have certainly 8 white tigers now and six snow whites, and from the white line goes extinct in the wild. We have today 11 right here in Las Vegas. Before Roy, there was no white tigers in her mother was extinct. You know, he was the one who had the idea of for the white tigers. Now you have hundreds all over the world. Outside The Mirage, right? By that big old bronze monument to Siegfried and Roy. There’s a plaque dated October 1993. The text calls out their work to preserve nature’s endangered white tigers. A decade later, in 2004, Congress even passes a bill recognizing the duo’s efforts to conserve this quote UN quote endangered species. But that phrase is something we cannot simply breeze past. Secret and Troy, have, you know, advertised these cats as part of some rare special royal white tiger that should be bred in order to be saved when the reality is they don’t exist in the wild, they exist just for your entertainment. Because they look more exotic in their crowd pleasers. Before this podcast, I had no idea that white tigers are not actually a unique species or breed. In reality, a white tiger is the result of a genetic mutation which has been passed on from an orange tiger. This mutation is located in a gene called SL C4582. One expert we spoke with actually told Siegfried and Roy. They were wrong to call white tigers a distinct species. But the magicians choose to ignore his explanation of basic science. In humans, mutations in our genes are the reason why I have Hazel eyes and someone else has blue eyes. Genetic mutations can also cause people to suffer from ailments such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and leukemia. In tigers, the mutation in the SLC 4582 gene that turns for white can create serious health problems. White tigers are the result of heavy inbreeding for a rare gene mutation that carries a lot of other genetic defects with it, like a diminished life expectancy, blindness, renal problems, a number of other issues that result frequently in their premature deaths. Over the years, hundreds of white tigers have been bred in private zoos, roadside parks and suburban backyards across America. The ease with which anyone can buy a white tiger today is astounding. Recently, I spent 3 minutes on Google and found a website called exotic Pets for sale. Online.com, which advertised white tiger Cubs for $3000.00 each. To purchase a cub you click a button that says add to cart just like you’re buying a scented candle or a pair of Nikes. In a way, it’s impossible to separate today’s white tiger industrial complex from Siegfried and Roy. It really wasn’t until I started working in the animal protection world that I realized the role that secret Android had played in perpetuating the white tiger fiction in the United States and encouraging and feet literally feeding all of these horrific exploiters. The very lines that they are relying on and using to dupe the public into believing that breeding white tigers has something to do with conservation. When it has everything to do with exploiting for profit. Look, I don’t think Siegfried and Roy have sinister intentions. Would I believe is they escaped terrible childhoods to craft a fairy tale life for themselves from the beginning? They project an air of mystery and mastery that wows audiences in their 1992 autobiography. The duo right, quote UN quote, a magicians lie is the truth, and the truth is his lie onstage, Siegfried and Roy used sleight of hand. And misdirection to make the impossible appear to happen, but beyond the stage there are cracks in the veneer. I gotta admit that the suggestion that Monocor was supposedly attempting to save Roy’s life made me laugh out loud. I mean, how could that possibly be anything but a made up explanation? And that’s only one example in making this podcast I’ve heard so many far out details that range from difficult to impossible to verify. Remember, earlier in the series? When we told you that Roy’s pregnant mother rode her bicycle as bombs dropped all around her only 15 minutes before she gave birth to Roy. My team and I read that detail in Siegfried and Roy’s autobiography, but the duo’s coauthor, Annette Tapper, told us that back when she was writing her book, she didn’t Fact Check the bicycle story, given that Roy’s mother passed away 20 years ago, that means we couldn’t Fact Check the story either. So this exact version of Roy’s birth will remain frozen in Amber forever. Another story we couldn’t Fact Check is the time Roys Wolf dog Hexa rescues Young Roy from drowning. Perhaps both of these anecdotes are true. Or maybe they were embellished by Roy’s family over the years. In that case, what’s the harm in repeating romantic fairy tales to the Co writer of your autobiography? But there are other instances where I can’t give Roy the benefit of the doubt. Take Monickers birth for instance, and how Roy claims he performed mouth to mouth resuscitation on the cub. No. I can assure you that this was not true. Francisco Rodriguez, her own is the director of the Guadalajara Zoo where he witnesses Monickers birth in 1996. I was there and I can assure you that this was not the case. And was the birth eventful? Was it uneventful? Was it smooth and uneventful? Yeah, we didn’t have any problems. This mother had a history of of having three or 4 liters without a problem. I can tell you that Shiva was very very very friendly animal. So as soon as as she had babies, she allowed us to to see the the babies. There were three babies, one stripe, white tiger. One stripeless tiger and one orange tiger. OK, so there is no mouth to mouth resuscitation as Roy claims this is not the mother Tiger’s first litter of Cubs as Roy claims. And lastly and most importantly, Roy isn’t even in Guadalajara when the Cubs are born. The truth is that many other people, including zookeepers, Francisco and even Francisco’s two children, all spend time with these Cubs before Roy ever even meets them. That’s not to say Roy doesn’t eventually develop a special bond with Monocor, but he doesn’t singlehandedly do all the hand rearing and Co sleeping. Most of those duties fall to a woman named GAIL Hedberg, a registered veterinarian tech who spends 30 years with the San Francisco Zoo. GAIL also worked for Siegfried and Roy celebrity friends. She once cared for Michael Jackson, giraffe cats, although GAIL declined to be interviewed for this podcast, she did speak on the phone with one of our producers and Margaret Warner. GAIL tells us that when she arrives in Guadalajara in 1996, the three cups have already been born. She speaks very highly of Siegfried and Roy and their staff, who run a full scale animal health clinic in Las Vegas. I don’t question the duo’s dedication to raising and caring for their animals. What I want to know is Francisco take on all this now that he knows the truth. Why do you think he would tell such a fantastic and almost unbelievable story about this baby tiger? I don’t know if the attack affected him somehow, but this was not true. So you think the attack had something to do with it? Versus maybe he just enjoyed telling a fun fairy tale that is the only thing that comes to my mind and that is 1 explanation that I found magicians who stand on a stage are constantly making you see things and believe things that aren’t necessarily true anyways, so it’s not unusual to me that that might happen. But are you aware that Siegfried and Roy had incidents where the animals attacked other human beings? Not to my knowledge. So you’d never heard about any incidents over the years. No, I never knew about it. At that moment in our interview I began walking Francisco through some of the details. It’s October 30th, 1985, the day before Halloween and Roy is by the pool at the Jungle Palace. Roy is accompanied by a 9 year old White Tiger who is attached to a leash. The enormous pool helps the Tigers cool off in the Vegas heat, but Roy wants to add another element of comfort for his cats. So today Roy has hired 2 stagehands from their show at the Stardust Hotel and Casino to build a nice Cape, a cool dark space beside the pool. Chuck and John have worked at the Jungle Palace before building fences and doing other odd jobs. After about four hours of hard labor on The Cave, John takes a short break and approaches Roy to discuss next steps. While speaking with Jon, Roy inadvertently drops the leash. A tiger is on the loose, but Chuck has no idea until he feels something right behind him. The second you turn your back on and out of wall, they feel that freedom and they will count on you. Next time on wild things Siegfried and Roy. I remember looking down and he was just pulling on my chest super fast. He was just trying to tear into me. I think I was blowing around in my brain and what’s gonna happen is he’s gonna make it. You must have had access. No, actually we have been very fortunate. Those words are like a stabbed to your victims hearts. Wild things Siegfried and Roy is an ample original podcast produced by Atwill Media. Our producer is Alexanders. Oslo story editors are Matt Hickey and Mandy Gorenstein. Our editor is Rachel Lightner. With help from Andrew Holzberger and Margaret Warner is our associate producer. Adele Sparks is our archival producer, and Ashley Taylor is our line producer. Fact checking by Sona Avakian. Our original music in main title are by Robert Kiesewetter, Anjana Bechtolt audio post production by 1000 birds. While things Siegfried and Roy is executive produced and written by me, Steven Lockhart, our executive producer from Atwell Media is will malnati. The Attwell Media team also includes Dominique Quebec Way and Ruby be legal services provided by Samuel Bayard and Sean Gordon with representation by Oren Rosenbaum at UTA. Listen and follow on Apple Podcasts.