WESTPORT — Upcoming live tiger shows at the Essex County Fair are causing some controversy.
An online petition on the Change.org platform calling for the shows to be canceled has garnered more than 1,200 signatures in the past two weeks. Some residents say the events are “inhumane” and akin to animal cruelty.
“This should never be okay, but we certainly don’t want to promote animal cruelty in our backyard,” Shyloah Osteyee, a Keene resident and teacher at AuSable Valley Central School District, wrote on the petition.
Some residents, like Suzanne McSherry of Lake Placid, have started writing letters to their local officials to implore them to stop the show.
“It is animal cruelty,” McSherry wrote in a letter to North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi. “Having an exotic animal on display is antithetical to our county fair’s history and mission and is antithetical to the conservation of a critically endangered species, and I urge you to cancel the tiger show.”
Politi said he passed the letter on to those in charge of the fair for their consideration.
The Essex County Agricultural Society, which runs the county fair, is working with the Ohio-based entertainment company Variety Attractions to bring the tigers to the fairgrounds in Westport. The show itself is by Nerger’s Tigers, run by Judit and Juergen Nerger of Florida, using tigers that are born in captivity. According to their website, the show has been featured at some of the most prestigious circuses in the world, including the Moscow State Circus in Russia. The duo came to the United States in 2002 and headlined with the Cole Brothers Circus and the Royal Canadian Circus.
The up to a dozen tigers showcased in the Nergers’ show stand on pedestals, jump through hoops and perform other tricks.
The Nergers’ act came under public criticism as recently as two weeks ago at the Summit County Fair in Tallmadge, Ohio. According to the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper, residents there called for the show to be canceled after a woman took to social media with a video showing a man prodding a caged tiger with a stick.
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Judit Nerger told the Akron Beacon Journal that the stick is used “to get them up — it’s not hurting them. It’s just a little pressure under the belly.
“These guys are our family members,” she told the newspaper. “Even though they are outside and in cages, we treat them like pets — it’s not just a job (running the tiger show). It’s more than that.”
Essex County Fair Board of Directors member Bridget Brown said this type of opposition happens nearly every time the fair books a live animal act.
But she said the events featuring animals, including the pig and camel shows the fair has hosted in the past, continue to be popular.
“This is entertainment,” she said. “People are always going to find something (to be upset about).”
Brown said the tigers will be kept in a humane environment. To be able to host the act, the fair had to ensure the proper equipment was in place to facilitate a refrigerated area for the animals.
“They’re not stuck out in the heat. They’re very well taken care of,” she said.
There are two to three tiger shows scheduled during each day of the fair. The 171st Essex County Fair runs Aug. 14 to 18 in Westport. Admission is $10.