AND HIS EXOTIC CATS
Interview - Marla Santos
Baby Snow Leopard - "Kala Kula"
“Dirk Arthur’s - Wild Illusions” is for anyone who loves magic, animals and gets a thrill when they see a wild creature so unbelievably unique appear live on stage.
The famous magicians Siegfried & Roy were the first to use exotic cats in their show—but now it is “Wild Illusions” that is the only show to use exotic cats on stage in the last few years—not just in Vegas, but anywhere.
Arthur has raised his exotic cats himself, and he personally handles them so that they can live healthy, happy and productive lives in a remote habitat near Las Vegas, where the cats run, swim and play.
Before opening his show at the Riviera, Arthur came under some criticism from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). They claim that: “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, or use for entertainment.” Although most of us grew up eating McDonald’s hamburgers, eating chicken or their eggs, wearing leather and visiting zoos—PETA now says that it is all wrong. The organization also opposes fishing, keeping birds in cages, and invisible fences that keep dogs in their yards. They complain about breeding programs and educational facilities and don’t like dog shows or rodeos. So, using exotic cats on stage, as Dirk Arthur does, and as magicians like Siegfried & Roy did for years, and breeding them to keep them from becoming extinct, is no longer acceptable to this group.
During Arthur’s 30-year history of keeping his exotic cats, he has complied with each and every state regulation, to preserve his position as their caregiver, ensuring their health and well being, and maintaining their habitat so they are happy. Without doubt, Arthur loves his cats and claims they are very affectionate in return. Recently Arthur shared his personal story in caring for his exotic cats—discussing the enormous expense involved in maintaining them, and his passionate efforts to educate and increase public awareness concerning the preservation of these endangered species.
STRIPLV: Tell me about your programs.
ARTHUR: I am going out to schools and various seminars to teach about the animals. We have a new baby snow leopard, and he’s going to be our Good-Will Ambassador. I’ve always done education over the years and I think it’s fun to increase awareness about preserving endangered animals and explaining about what I do to take care of my cats. One-hundred-percent of the proceeds from merchandise sales at the show will be donated to various animal care and conservation programs, animal sanctuaries, and developing educational programs in schools to create awareness about endangered animal preservation. The merchandise generates quite a lot of income. One-third helps to preserve animals in the wild, one-third is used for animal sanctuaries, and one-third is used for animal enrichment for my cats. The public has told me over the years that they want to help animals in the wild, but they also thought it was important that my animals get what they need to be happy and well cared for.
STRIPLV: What do your cats need to be happy?
ARTHUR: We have an exercise cage that we’re going to enlarge, and add a cave, too. They have artificial trees and a variety of toys that they play with.
STRIPLV: How many cats do you have now?
ARTHUR: I have fourteen. We use six to eight in the show, and we rotate them on different nights, so each cat gets a break, or if one isn’t feeling well that particular night, we don’t use it.
STRIPLV: You bring them to the show, then return them home with you each night.
ARTHUR: Yes. It’s quite an undertaking, but the cages can go up and down elevators and ramps. I have about 8-10 people employed with the show, so I have help. The animals need to live out in the fresh air, so we’ve always taken them back and forth. I’ve been doing this for decades.
STRIPLV: The redheaded girl in the show seemed very comfortable with the cats.
ARTHUR: That’s Niki Sherman, my new animal handler.
STRIPLV: Do you feed the cats before you bring them to the show or wait until they return home?
ARTHUR: A little bit of both. During the day and during the show they get treats. They get rewarded every time they go from one place to another, like walking across the stage. They get little pieces of steak for doing things right, but it’s at night they get their main meal.
STRIPLV: You have said that they are not trained cats, but that you present them. I loved that you presented them for us to see and appreciate.
ARTHUR: Exactly. There is a difference. It’s a magic show, so we’re not having them do unnatural behaviors, and we’re exhibiting them in a natural way with the magic, of course. I think it’s great for the people that love animals, so they can see a tiger and leopard up close, and it is thrilling when you do. With the added magic, it’s just great!
STRIPLV: After the first lion cubs you acquired at age twenty-one, all of your cats have been born in captivity?
ARTHUR: I work with breeders, zoos and conservationists throughout the U.S., and some of the animals are born in my own breeding program, as well. Unfortunately, the white tigers and the snow-white tigers have become extinct in the wild.
STRIPLV: Do the different animals have different personalities?
ARTHUR: They do. It’s so much fun being with the cats, and working with them. Tigers and leopards, for example, are different species and have different characteristics. They are very much individuals, with individual personalities. What will make one cat a little nervous, another cat doesn’t mind at all. Some of the cats are very comfortable being in front of all the lights and music. The ones in the show get very comfortable with it. We condition them to all the lights and music so they will be comfortable. Sometimes we will have a cat that may be too nervous to be in the show, and then that cat could become part of the breeding program. We would never force them to be in the show at that point.
STRIPLV: What is the approximate cost per day of feeding a large animal like this?
ARTHUR: It’s kind of tough to figure out the exact amount, because there’s so much involved, not just the food, but also the veterinary care, the caging, the bedding and the maintenance. I can’t put an exact figure on it, but it’s thousands and thousands of dollars a week. It’s super expensive! I think that’s why I’m the last remaining show with big cats. To do it right and give the cats the proper care, it’s very expensive!
STRIPLV: What do you feed them?
ARTHUR: Mostly chicken and beef. They love chicken leg quarters. Of course we supplement it with vitamins and calcium and all that good stuff.
STRIPLV: Do you have a Veterinarian on staff?
ARTHUR: Yes, we do. He’s not ours one-hundred-percent of the time, but he’s always on call for us. Over the years, I’ve become pretty educated with veterinary care and I know what to look for, what to watch out for, and what to do until the Veterinarian is needed.
STRIPLV: What advice would you give to a novice magician who wanted to be like you and loves cats, or to a person that just wants to own an exotic cat for a pet?
ARTHUR: We really frown upon anyone having them as pets, because there’s just so much involved. It’s becoming nearly impossible to comply with all the regulations and the government permits. I don’t know how I’d advise a young magician. I might be able to help one out and maybe help them put together a show using my expertise when I’m ready to retire, but I think it would be really, really hard for someone to start out fresh now…to start from the beginning. It’s so very difficult! Not many people have the willpower to put in all the energy, time and commitment.
STRIPLV: Companies are selling more and more wild animals that people really shouldn’t own as pets, like the woman who owned the chimpanzee (Sarah Herold) that all of a sudden one day viciously attacked her friend and tore her face off in 2009. I don’t think they are meant to be living in our homes. Do you agree?
ARTHUR: I definitely frown on owning them as pets. However I’m not against private ownership, provided that person is qualified to comply with all regulations, all permits and all zoning. Some private owners have done a great job in preserving these super rare animals that are becoming extinct over time. I don’t believe it’s right to be anti private zoos, private facilities, or private researchers that want to do animal education.
“Dirk Arthur’s - Wild Illusions” at Riviera Hotel & Casino Sat.-Thu. 7pm Matinees Sat. & Sun. 4pm. Show runs through May 3rd. Riviera closes its doors at noon on May 4th to be demolished to make way for convention and meeting facilities. • DirkArthur.net