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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wildlife on the Las Vegas Strip: Part 1

If you arrived here looking for sex and cocaine, use the back arrow because you've got the wrong blog. This one's about fur, feathers, and flippers.

How, you might ask, did a certified eco-nut, tree-hugging, conservation extremist end up in Sin City on New Year's Eve? It has to do with Death Valley and sign painters, and we will skip that story. Instead, picture me stunned by neon after a week in the desert, gasping from cigarette smoke, and failing at both slot machines and electronic blackjack, without the courage or inclination to delve deeper into gambling, without the bucks or inclination for the high-ticket shows. (Well, we did see Blue Man Group at the Venetian, and it was great, but that's two hours and then there you are again sitting on a huge bed staring at the TV.)

Thus was born the wildlife tour of resorts on the strip. I started, logically, at Circus Circus. On the second floor, a classy high-wire act provided free entertainment. At the cheesy midway surrounding the ring, I asked about circus animals. The people manning the booths where guests throw balls to win stuffed animals, etc. gave me answers indicating that the staff was not drawn from the native English speaking population. When I finally made myself clear to a woman in a sari (dart game), the response was "No, no animals." OK fine. On to The Mirage.

The Mirage houses Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. $15 to get in to a pleasant little zoo. The dolphin pools are first and they are large and clean. No scheduled shows, the trainers work the animals frequently but without much hoopla. Two bottlenose dolphins in the first pool did the spectacular leaps we all love, then the trainer worked closely with one. He tugged the animal out of the water by its tail until it was completely on the shore. Then he signed it to swim around the pool "waving". The whistle and hand signals were subtle, the fish rewards not so much.

I am always amazed by the skill of marine mammal trainers. Give them a bucket of fish and a whistle and they can accomplish anything with a dolphin. They also make a fun show out of "husbandry behaviors." Being able to touch the animal and get it out of the water has got to be a great help in treating any medical problems, and of course it doesn't require force and drama if the animal is used to doing it every day as part of the feeding routine. One of the staff said that most of the dolphins were born there.

For some reason, the facility included a lot of alpacas. Beats me.

Next came the cats, Siegfried & Roy's famous white tigers. One was pacing and squirting in a large, grassy enclosure with a waterfall. Two white cubs (getting some size on them) were being babysat by a young woman. A "white" lion lay regally. (The body was tan, the mane was bright white. Looked peroxided.) All the enclosures looked good and the animals' weights looked OK to me, although I am hardly an expert.

Now, your ordinary zoo lion or tiger is rarely an example of vigorous intellectual ferment, but they tend to have a glint of cunning about them, as though they are keeping one eye open for their big opportunity to show what a predator can do. Not so these white animals. The male lion, especially, looked as if you'd have to point out where the food was each and every day or he might starve. OK, that's not fair. I'm judging based on vague eyes and a bit of tongue hanging out. Forget I said it.

Since no one is likely to see a Siegfried & Roy show ever again, I stood in the gift shop and watched the full video. My feet hurt, but I'm cheap. The show looked stunning, I have to say. Vivid and dramatic. Then the video showed an interview with one of them (Roy?) and he went on about conservation and saving endangered white tigers and lions and reintroducing them into the wild, and I came to my senses. What a load of equine scat. Those inbred mutants wouldn't stand a (sorry, can't resist) snowballs chance in the wild. They're dangerous pets, people think they're pretty, and Siegfried & Roy made a lot of money off them. That's all. And, in case you were wondering, they do plan to keep on breeding them. That's what the cubs are for.

Roy & Siegfried do mention Save The Tiger on their website, the only evidence I found of real conservation. Heaven knows lions and tigers could use the help. Check these links out and donate what you can. Tigers. Lions.

Next up: Part 2: Feathered Headdresses... on Birds

For other takes on human/wildlife interaction, see my website.

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1 comment:

Evan Lewis said...

I saw plenty of animalistic behavior when I was there, but it was all from hairless apes.

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