When Crystal, a five-month old Siberian tiger cub, was dragged onto the stage for the grand opening of the Tigre de Cristal Casino, she couldn’t hear the thundering music, or the flashing lights, or the immense crowds of people. She couldn’t smell the sweat or the alcohol or the filth. She could barely walk, and probably had no idea where she was, what she was doing or why she wasn’t with her mother and siblings.
We, however, are very much aware of what was happening.
The owners of Tigre de Cristal, the casino in Primorye region in which the new Primorye Entertainment Zone (Russia’s “Las Vegas”) was recently established, had a fantastic idea. They thought it would be fun to have one of Russia’s most symbolic animals, the endangered Siberian tiger, present during their opening night. They thought it would be cool to parade President Vladimir Putin’s most cherished animal up and down in front of a hoard of Russians and foreigners, there to gamble.
So, together with Ekaterina Zotova, the owner of a zoo nearby, they bought the five-month old cub from a zoo near the Ural mountains. Spending more than 7,000 Euros, they ripped her from her mother’s side and drove her more than 7,000kms to her new zoo and, most importantly, her grand debut. Once they arrived, they drugged her heavily with an as-yet undisclosed sedative. So as not to overwhelm her with the chaos of the casino, they said. So that she wouldn’t bite anyone, they said. For her own good, they insisted. But she wouldn’t have had to be drugged “for her own good” if Ekaterina Zotova, the owner of the zoo that bought the endangered cub purely for profit, had thought of the Crystal’s welfare before her own gain. Of course she would have probably been terrified, had she not been drugged. But why was it necessary to remove her from her family, drive her overland for a ridiculous amount of time and give her drugs whose effects are unpredictable?
Furthermore, sarcastically enough, almost all wild Siberian tigers live in the Sikhote-Alin mountain range that also includes Primorye, region in which the casino was built. But although Crystal was, technically, taken “home”, not all participants of the evening thought this funny – some even found offensive that such a symbolic animal that many are struggling to save was being used, barely conscious, for simple entertainment. Especially because the casino’s plans haven’t yet finished: more appearances are planned for the abused cub.
Big Hearts Foundaiton condemns this blatant exploitation of an endangered young animal and breach of safety regulations. While the police is looking into what drug was used during the show, we are currently writing a letter to the prosecutor’s office and local administrations, hoping this will lead to a ban of the illegal activities executed by the Etkaterina Zotova’s zoo or at least force them to become a functional institution. We will not let this pass unnoticed or unpunished.