Roy Horn and the White Tiger

Conservation and What Really Happened

White tiger
K.V.J.R.KOTESWARA RAO/Getty Images

Friday, October 3, 2003, was Roy Horn's 59th birthday. It was also the day when his 7-year-old, 600-pound Royal white tiger, Montecore, grabbed him by the neck and carried him offstage during a performance of the Siegfried and Roy illusionist act at the Mirage Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas. Backstage show attendants sprayed the big cat with fire extinguishers to get him off Horn, who was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital.

The performer, who had worked with the big cats in over 5,000 performances without incidence, was in critical condition, suffering from two bite wounds to the neck with resultant loss of blood. He suffered at least one stroke during surgery, and prognosis was grim.

At a press conference, Horn's surgeon, Dr. Derek Duke, read from a prepared statement: "A contributing factor to [Horn's] current condition is his extraordinary will and strong physical attributes. These are significant elements in his ability to recover." Roy's will to survive was amply demonstrated by a "thumbs-up" sign he gave his partner.

The Siegfried and Roy Partnership: How It Started

Roy Horn and Siegfried Fischbacher both grew up in Germany during WW2, but in different villages. Siegfried, the eldest by five years, took an early interest in magic, and avidly honed his talents until he left his hometown at the age of 17. Roy, whose lifelong love of animals was sealed early on by his beloved dog's role in saving his life, got a job in a zoo where he cared for and bonded with a cheetah named Chico.

In 1957, Siegfried and Roy met on a German cruise ship, where they both worked; Siegfried as a steward, and Roy as a waiter. One night, Roy saw Siegfried pulling a rabbit out of a hat on a makeshift stage. One thing led to another, and the two became partners. During an early conversation, when Siegfried asked Roy how the show could be made better, Roy asked if he could make a cheetah disappear the same way he could with a rabbit.

It seems that Roy had smuggled Chico aboard the ship. The rest, as they say, is history.

After performing in Europe for five years, Siegfried and Roy arrived in Las Vegas, having been invited there by an agent who saw their performance in Monte Carlo. They have been performing in Las Vegas for over 30 years, thrilling and delighting over 25 million show-goers during that time. They progressed from a modest shared billing at the Folies Bergere to an eventual lifetime contract with the Mirage Hotel, which also showcases a multimillion dollar conservatory for the Royal White Tigers and Magical White Lions they love so well.

Big Cat Conservation

For over 20 years, Siegfried and Roy have worked for the care and conservation of Royal White Tigers, starting with the offspring of a perfectly matched pair given to the U.S. by the Maharaja of Rewa in 1958. As a result of their efforts, there are now 200 of those rare and beautiful big cats gracing our planet. 38 of them live in Las Vegas, housed in comfort in the Mirage's White Tiger Habitat.

In 1993, they expanded their efforts to include the Magical White Lions, and on April first of 2001, their white Lioness Prosperity, gave birth to four cubs, dubbed The Pride of the Millennium, at the Cincinnati Zoo.

That record-breaking birth increased the number of these precious lions in Siegfried and Roy's worldwide conservation program to 23.

Roy has "fathered" many of his big cats from birth. "The first voice they hear is mine, the first touch they feel is mine, the fist human face they see is mine," he confides on his website.

Siegfried & Roy actively support the Save the Tiger Fund, a special project of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in partnership with Exxon Mobil Corporation. The fund is dedicated to saving Asia's remaining wild tigers from extinction.You may contribute, by sending a check to: Save the Tiger Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation National Office, 1120 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20036. I can think of no more fitting way of actively demonstrating your support during Roy Horn's recovery from his wounds.

What Was Behind the "Attack" by the White Tiger?

Original reports were full of description phrases such as "lunged at," "attacked," and "dragged offstage." In the confusion and horror at the time, it is no wonder that memories may have been colored by the perception of the crowd. However, in an exclusive interview for KLAS TV, Steve Wynn, builder of the Mirage, has pieced together an entirely different explanation, taken from various accounts of people who were there:

While Roy was leading Montecore onstage, the big cat became fascinated with a "big hairdo" of a woman who was seated in the front row, to the point where the white lion lay down and gazed at the woman. When Roy saw what was happening, he placed himself between Montecore and the spectator. Montecore, intent on the distraction, gently took Roy's arm in his mouth (no bite marks were evident, according to Wynn's account). At that time, Roy verbally admonished the big cat and bopped him on the nose with the microphone, in an effort to distract him. In trying to keep between Montecore and the woman, Roy tripped and fell. As attendants rushed to the stage, Montecore's instinct was to "get out of Dodge" and back to the safety of his offstage cage, and to protect his master by taking him with him. According to Wynn, Montecore did not "drag" Roy offstage; it was a gentle "carry," much like a mother cat would carry her kitten.

Most experts on big cats agree that had Montecore intended to harm Roy, he would have grabbed him by the neck and shaken him, snapping his neck instantly. To paraphrase the words of Siegfried, "There would be no more Roy."

A statement on Siegfried and Roy's official website says, "Siegfried & Roy are the men who have given back to the world the Magical White Lions and Royal White Tigers. Their tireless conservation efforts will mean that the children of the future will never have to ask, 'What happened to the animals?'" Roy's final words while being attended to immediately after the incident were of concern for the white tiger, "Please don't shoot the cat.

Save the cat."

Resources

Siegfried & Roy Official Web Site

Steve Wynn Exclusive Interview to KLAS TV

Prosperity's Pride of the Millennium