Updated January 18, 2022 - 5:37 pm
Magician Jay Owenhouse still intends to host a “world-class” magic and illusion show just off the Las Vegas Strip, but without the element of the proposed six-month residency that had stirred controversy: three Bengal tigers.
Owenhouse confirmed Tuesday that he had withdrawn his request to perform with the tigers and keep the animals in an enclosure on site for the duration of the family-oriented act, citing a lack of confidence from Clark County officials that such plans would be safe.
“While we’re at this location, some of our family members, the tigers, will have to stay on an extended vacation, and I’m disappointed in that,” Owenhouse said in an interview.
The proposed tent-covered show on the southeast corner of Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road had been beleaguered from the start by both its location and an outcry from animal rights activists who said it was dangerous and exploitative.
Ultimately Owenhouse was unable to convince county and police officials that three tigers living for an extended period of time near residences, businesses and foot traffic was a good idea, despite his assurances that three perimeter fences and 24-hour security at the enclosure on a paved parking lot were adequate for public safety.
“The site itself was not appropriate,” said Commissioner Tick Segerblom, whose district covers where the show is proposed.
The commission unanimously approved the project with tigers in 2020 when it was slated to be held near Mandalay Bay, comfortable with that location, but it never materialized because the land was sold to new owners.
There was a virtual hearing on the latest proposal last week, where Owenhouse received his fair share of support, but most who spoke questioned whether it was safe and expressed concerns for the well-being of the animals. Some said it would be out of step with the county’s exotic animals ordinance.
“He’s done the right thing and we enthusiastically look forward to supporting his show as long as it includes no animal acts,” said Carrie LeBlanc, executive director of Henderson-based animal advocacy group CompassionWorks International. “I think it sends a very loud message, not just to Mr. Owenhouse but, yes, to anyone who would come to Las Vegas and try to set up a similar show.”
Rachel Mathews, the PETA Foundation director of captive animal law enforcement, said in a statement that “(t)oday’s news that big cats won’t be confined to metal cages in the Nevada desert is helping 2022 begin on a high note.”
Show not all about tigers
Owenhouse, who describes himself as a passionate animal advocate of more than three decades, and who has owned a private tiger habitat in Montana for nearly as long, said he believed that activist groups would try to cast the removal of tigers from the proposed show as a sign that public officials were against their use at all.
“PETA will probably look at this as a victory,” he said. “It’s not an issue of tigers in Las Vegas. It’s an issue of tigers living at the location.”
Owenhouse also sought to clarify what he said had been a misnomer about his act: “We’re not a tiger show.”
The magic and illusion show, which he performs with his four children, is centered on family, including the tigers. The animals take part at times, meant to highlight the need for their preservation, but they are not the focus, he said, although two tigers appear prominently with the family on his under-construction website’s main banner.
The animals have been in performances for “many years” since he adopted them and raised them with affectionate, positive-only training, he said. The 90-minute show, which Owenhouse described as “an authentic experience,” is also intended to inspire overcoming personal adversity, which the family knows about firsthand: His wife died after falling ill more than a decade ago.
Owenhouse’s proposal without tigers is expected to appear before the county commission on Feb. 2, during its zoning commission meeting, he and county officials said. Owenhouse said he would not rule out seeking to return with the tigers in the future if the location was right.
But Segerblom was not so sure about the current prospects for animal acts. He grew up with Siegfried and Roy, he said, two staples of Las Vegas’s entertainment industry, but “I think those days are maybe gone.”
Owenhouse and his family seemed to be “genuinely nice people” and their tigers were likely better off than most animals, Segerblom added, as he recalled that the tigers lived in Montana.
“That’s probably a better place to be than the Strip,” he said.