MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A South Florida high school’s senior prom is getting national and international attention as the school’s principal says he regrets the decision to have live animals, including a tiger, at the jungle-themed prom.
Christopher Columbus High School Principal, David Pugh, released a statement Monday morning saying, “Upon reflection, we regret the decision to have live animals at our prom. This decision in no way reflects the Marist values, teachings of the Catholic Church and/or the accomplishments of our young and that of our distinguished alumni. We remain proud of the work we do in our community by raising awareness for pediatric cancer, autism and our homeless veterans, to name a few.”
The event, held at the DoubleTree Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center, upset some students and parents after a caged tiger appeared on stage.
The animal rights activist group PETA released a statement saying the display of the tiger was “cruel and dangerous” and “wild animals are not promo decorations.”
Ron Magill, a wildlife expert and communications director for Zoo Miami, told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “This tiger was obviously stressed out immensely. You can see the way it was pacing and its ears were pulled back. This tiger was horribly stressed and these kids were surrounding it. There are people tossing fire and playing loud music and there were disco lights. What type of message are we sending if we take an endangered species and put it under that type of stress for entertainment.”
Magill also said, “There’s obviously a safety issue. What if that tiger had gotten out and escaped. That would have put all those kids there in danger. I am not saying the tiger is going to systematically kill everyone but in its drive to get away from this horrible situation it will take out anyone getting in its way and its escape.”
The school initially said the tiger was only on display for a few minutes and no one was harmed and the tiger was not hurt. The school also said handlers were nearby along with two Miami-DADE police officers.
Student Marie Christine Castellanos posted on her Facebook page “How shameful for Christopher Columbus High school …showing its students on prom night who is the “king of the jungle “ this poor tiger was used as an EXOTIC amusement for the mindless teenagers who were present.”
“The tiger didn’t really feel distressed.” Student Raphael Crespo, who attended prom, said. “It didn’t open its mouth at any point in time. It just paced back and forth a little bit,” he added.
“I don’t agree that the tiger should have been there but the money that was generated paid for food for the tiger and the medication it needs to survive,” he said. “Plus the tiger is in captivity and he is used to that.”
Christopher Columbus High had put out an earlier statement addressing the situation:
“…several animals were displayed in a very controlled situation, including a Lemur, two Macaws, an African Fennec Fox, and a Tiger. 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 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 lying down in a relaxed state facing away from the audience.”
FWC—the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission—said it had launched an investigation to see if any wildlife captivity rules had been broken. Exhibiting wildlife on public is legal as long as all the state’s rule and regulations are followed.
FWC said the tiger was from Predators Unlimited, a licensed wildlife captivity facility on Southwest Miami-Dade.
Principal David Pugh did not want to comment on camera. CBS4 News wanted to ask him how the decision was made to bring live animals to a prom. Was the decision made by a committee? If so, how many adults were part of the process and who are they?