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Popular illusionist may not return to Missoula due to exotic ani - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Popular illusionist may not return to Missoula due to exotic animals ban

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Bozeman illusionist Jay Owenhouse says he enjoys performing in Missoula (MTN News photo) Bozeman illusionist Jay Owenhouse says he enjoys performing in Missoula (MTN News photo)
MISSOULA -

Last Saturday may have been the last time Missoula will see Bozeman illusionist Jay Owenhouse perform with his endangered Bengal Tigers.

The Missoula City Council passed an ordinance in September banning wild and exotic animals from performing in the city of Missoula after community members reported seeing animals suffering in inhumane conditions at city events.

Reporter Augusta McDonnell visited the show and also spoke with a member of the council who voted in favor of the ban.

Owenhouse says he enjoys performing in the Dennison theater because the space allows audience members to make intimate connections with his Bengal tigers, five year old twin sisters Shakina and Sheena.

He says it's important for people to understand and experience the tigers for themselves, because only then will they truly care for their preservation. Proceeds from his show pay for security at wild tiger sanctuaries in India where poachers are their greatest threat.

"Our tigers are treated with respect and dignity. When we travel with them, when we take them out on the road, six to 10 days a month plus the summer off," Owenhouse explained.

Missoula City Council President Marilyn Marler says officials were approached by several groups who were concerned about animals seen performing at local events like the Missoula County Fair, who seemed to be mistreated.

Owenhouse' show was not mentioned in the complaints, and is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks who require permits every time the animals leave the sanctuary or state and vet checkups every 30 days.

"I think it's possible sometimes that somebody could be complying with federal laws about how to handle elephants, exotic animals...but are our view of how a wild animal should be treated is just out of sync with the law," Marler said.

"A lot of our constituents were coming to us and saying they were not comfortable, and they thought it was inhumane just to see wild animals kept in captivity like that and forced to perform."

Owenhouse uses a relationship based training method that rewards the tigers with food and affection. 

"Some people assume that in order for those animals to be involved in a human's life it has to be coerced, or abusive, and that's just not true," he concluded.

The ban, which does not apply to rodeo or horse racing sports, will go into effect next year.

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