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Bid for White Tigers in Ventura County Shut Down

It may seem like something that isn’t up for debate, but a California state appeals court recently ruled that tigers and residential zones do not mix. The case revolves around Irena Hauser, a Ventura County resident who wanted to keep five white tigers on her property, self-professed to be fully trained in the keeping of dangerous animals.

In 2014, Hauser made a request to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to allow the tigers to stay on her property. The white tigers would have been housed in a fenced enclosure on her 19-acre property. She claimed that there would be supervision throughout the day, from herself, or other relatives living on the property.

Hauser’s request has been denied twice since 2014, even after she outlined plans on how the white tigers would be kept on the property. This most recent decision follows Hauser ongoing attempt to reverse the original ruling. In short, Hauser claims that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors did not provide a fair hearing before their decision to deny her a conditional use permit. Additionally, she claimed that the Board was unduly influenced, against their own rules, by other concerned citizens contacting them outside of the official hearing.

In a decision that quoted “The Tyger” by William Blake, the court of appeals upheld the Board’s original decision.

Neighbors strongly opposed the white tigers near their homes and families.

Over 11,000 signatures were gathered by Ventura County residents in opposition to Hauser’s original permit request. Citizens wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “No Tigers In Santa Monica Mountains” protested Hauser’s hearing in 2014.

The 2018 decision cited the significant opposition posed by other residents. With 46 homes within a mile of the proposed enclosure, the court stated that there was significant risk to other citizens. The hard terrain around Hauser’s property meant that were the big cats to escape, locating and capturing them would have been difficult.

A significant issue lay with the white tigers themselves. Hauser argued that big cats born in captivity were considerably safer than those found in the wild. But her opposition strongly disagreed, and the appeals court decision cited instances where qualified and experienced professionals were harmed or killed by captive tigers.

Most famously, in 2003 Roy Horn of the famous Siegfried and Roy duo was mauled by a 7-year old white tiger. It happened in seconds, and before other handlers could free Roy from the tiger’s jaws, he nearly lost his life on stage.

The tiger was a regular feature in their performances, and both entertainers to this day are among the most experienced individuals with exotic and dangerous animals. Both entertainers have performed for decades with white tigers and other endangered predators. The severe injuries sustained by such an experienced animal handler illustrate the risks associated with big cats.

Insufficient training and safety measures influenced the appeals court decision

Irena Hauser claimed that she was trained in the handling of dangerous animals. But in the court’s decision, it is revealed that her training consisted of an eight-day course. The agency providing the training required no written exams and no specific reading. All participants in the training receive a certificate of completion. It is a stark contrast to the years of training and experience that entertainers like Siegfried and Roy possess.

Of added concern was a lack of proper supervision. While Irena herself claimed to be trained, no other member of her household had undergone similar training. In her argument for the CUP, she claimed that herself and her sister, their husbands, and children would be on the property in some capacity at all times. However, without adequate training, Hauser could not guarantee the animals would be safely secured.

Additionally, with plans to regularly transport the animals to public venues, the risk to other citizens could only increase. Picture of Hauser’s big cats roaming on a public beach did not inspire trust that she was willing to take adequate safety measures. While Hauser claimed that there were ‘safety measure’ out of the camera angles, she could not prove that she was prepared to handle the big cats if they tried to escape then and there.

“Tyger! Tyger!” But not in Ventura County.

While the outcome may have been obvious to some, Hauser’s argument cited that the county had approved other similar facilities. Dangerous animals were being kept in locations with a significantly denser population, sometimes relatively near schools. Furthermore, the safety measures at these locations were provably inadequate. By comparison, she claimed that her own safety record was flawless, and planned facilities would exceed all county standards.

This, like all other arguments posed by Hauser, failed to move the appeals court decision in her favor. For now, her ambitions appear to be put on indefinite hold.

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