Tigre de Cristal casino under fire for drugging Siberian tiger at grand opening

tigre-de-cristal-drugged-tigerRussia’s newest and largest casino is under fire from animal activists over its treatment of a Siberian tiger cub.

Tigre de Cristal, which is majority owned by companies under the control of Lawrence Ho, held its soft launch last month, becoming the first casino to open in Russia’s Primoye gaming zone near Vladivostok on the country’s eastern shores.

The casino held its official grand opening last Wednesday, at which a live Siberian tiger cub appeared on a stage before the assembled guests. The five-month old female cub – named Crystal in honor of the occasion – was reportedly purchased for 450k rubles (US $6,800) from the Ufa zoo in the Republic of Bashkortostan and then transported the 7,800 kilometers to Primorye.

Many observers at the grand opening told local Russian media that the cub appeared to have been drugged; carried out onto the stage as if she were asleep, then spending her entire hour in the spotlight staring at the crowd with glassy eyes under drooping eyelids.

The Siberian Times quoted a casino source saying Crystal had been given an oral sedative prior to her public debut so that she wouldn’t bite anyone. Zoo director Ekaterina Zotova denied that the drugs posed any harm, saying Crystal was too valuable to the casino to risk doing anything potentially dangerous to her health.

Crystal’s new permanent home is not far away from Tigre de Cristal in a private zoo near Ussuriysk, and the casino has suggested she’ll continue to make public appearances as the situation warrants. Animal rights activists aren’t thrilled about the casino’s new mascot, suggesting that the operators might have thought a little harder about the potential pitfalls of using an endangered species – there are estimated to be only around 500 Siberian tigers left in the wild – and one so tied with the local identity, as a promotional tool.