NORTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) – A decision by organizers of a local high school prom to include a caged tiger and other wild animals in the event was met with outrage and accusations of animal abuse by a community in dismay.
Some families were not happy when they heard about the inclusion of exotic creatures at the prom for Christopher Columbus High School students, which was held Friday night at the DoubleTree by Hilton Miami Airport Hotel in Northwest Miami-Dade.
Marie-Christine Castellanos told 7News she was shocked when her brother told her what he saw. “This is an event to have fun and amusement, but is torturing an animal really considered amusement?” she said.
Video posted on social media shows the tiger being wheeled out in a small cage to the middle of a dance floor.
“You guys paid to see this happen to an innocent animal who had nowhere to run, who was completely afraid,” said Marie-Christine.
Surrounded by the loud music and the flash of the flames, the tiger is seen pacing back and forth as fire dancers twirled the flames feet away from the cage. Looking on, dozens of students are seen shouting and recording the moment on their smartphones.
“I was appalled. We are animal advocates in this house,” said Maria Castellanos, Marie-Christine’s mother.
Saturday night, the school’s marketing director said the tiger was one of several animals brought in by animal professionals who assured her they’re well cared for and are used to these types of performances.
She released a statement that reads in part, “The event included jungle themed decorations and several animals were displayed in a very controlled situation, including a lemur, two macaws, an African fennec fox and a tiger.”
In the statement, the marketing director went on to say they had no reason to believe the animals were in any type of distress. It reads in part, “Two Miami-Dade Police officers were present the entire time. The animals were provided by facilities that are licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”
The exotic birds were placed in cages as centerpieces on the tables. School officials said students walking in could take photos with the fox, lemur and other exotic animals.
But Maria said the animals’ inclusion at the event was grossly ill-conceived. “These are wild animals that are being abused and used for profit,” she said.
Along with Christopher Columbus High School, school officials said Infinity Sound Production and a company called Wild Animals were involved in planning the dance.
The school also said the hotel also approved the tiger performance.
The school’s statement went on to say, “The tiger, which was displayed for a few minutes in a cage, was never harmed or in danger, was not forced to perform, was always accompanied by his handlers, and for the great majority of the time was laying down in a relaxed state facing away from the audience.”
But the animal’s appearance left students’ loved ones crying foul, calling this blatant animal abuse.
“When I saw this tiger being caged and surrounded by fire and teenagers taking photos and screaming and yelling, my first reaction was, who got down on one knee and asked this tiger to go to prom?” said Marie-Christine.
A spokesperson from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a statement that reads, “Wild animals belong in the wild. When they cannot be, they belong in reputable sanctuaries where the needs of the animals come first. They absolutely do not need to be in a party situation. This must have been a terrifying ordeal for the animals. Wild and exotic animal should never be part of any large party or event.”
7News also reached out to the other companies that helped organize the prom, but they did not immediately respond to requests for comment.