Christopher Columbus High School regrets using caged tiger, live animals at prom

'This tiger is being stressed out,' Zoo Miami's Ron Magill says

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor, Sanela Sabovic - Reporter, Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - The principal of a Miami-Dade County high school said he regrets using a caged tiger as the main attraction at Friday's jungle-themed prom.

"As a school community, we regret the decision to have had live animals at our prom," Christopher Columbus High School Principal David Pugh said in a statement Monday morning. "This incident in no way reflects our school's Marist values and/or accomplishments of our young men nor our sensitivity to animal rights. We will immediately evaluate our current policies and procedures regarding all school activities and events. We can assure the Columbus community and all who have expressed concern, that we are sorry. We have learned a great deal from this experience."

Social media posts showed a caged tiger being rolled into the prom at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel near Miami International Airport. 

The school has received plenty of backlash for its use of the tiger, a lemur, two macaws and an African fennec fox at the prom.

An earlier statement from the school said the animals were provided by facilities that are licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"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," the earlier statement said.

But that's not the way Ron Magill of Zoo Miami sees it.

"This tiger's not celebrating. This tiger's not having a party," Magill told ABC News. "This tiger is being stressed out."

Magill said he was shocked that the school decided to bring a caged tiger to its prom and "didn't know what they were thinking."

"It's not even walking," Magill said. "It's going back and forth, back and forth; its tail is slashing back and forth; its ears are going into helicopter mode -- all signs of distress."

Students who spoke to Local 10 News said they believe the incident is being blown out of proportion.

"They just wanted to have the senior class to have a good time," Mateo Zavalia said.

Another student, Raphael Crespo, said the tiger was on display for just a few minutes and didn't seem distressed.

"Provided all rules and regulations are followed, exhibition of wildlife at public events is not prohibited by Florida law," FWC spokesman Rob Klepper said in a statement. 

Klepper said the FWC is looking into whether all rules and regulations were followed during the prom.

Meanwhile, animal activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals blasted the high school's decision to bring the tiger and other animals to the event.

"Displaying a tiger in a tiny cage and allowing students to handle lemurs is cruel to the animals and dangerous for the students, and it sends the harmful message that living beings are props to be used for human amusement," said PETA Senior Director of Youth Outreach and Campaigns Marta Holmberg. "Wild animals aren't prom decorations, and TeachKind is calling on Christopher Columbus High School to avoid further embarrassment by implementing an immediate ban on live animals at school events."

PETA claims Predators Unlimited, which the FWC confirmed provided the animals for the prom, has previously been cited "for failing to provide animals with safe and secure enclosures and adequate veterinary care, among other violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act."

PETA released a statement Tuesday saying they had sent a letter to the school's principal, who promised that he will not be using animals at any of the school's events. 

"The school now joins more than 620 venues and dozens of communities across the country that have prohibited wild-animal exhibits,"Marta Holmberg, of PETA, said in a statement.  

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