Tag Archives: Linda Faso

Wild Animal Encounters of the Sordid Las Vegas Kind

Karl Mitchell has wild urges that include wild animals and celebrities alike. Having a tumultuous animal training career spanning 16 years, Mitchell was sent to prison five years ago, and some thought that would be the end of his troubles with animals. 

But while searching for her new BFF, reality TV star Paris Hilton required contestants to pet a live tiger at the home of Wayne Newton. The tiger came from Pahrump, Nevada, one of five owned by the animal trainer. 

What Hilton probably doesn’t know is that Mitchell is now using her name and likeness to promote his business, Big Cat Encounters.   His website entices tourists to visit his “tiger reserve,” described as five acres of grassland, almost like a zoo, where tigers roam free and where paying customers can pet, photograph, and even swim with the large carnivores.

World-renowned animal expert?  Many respond with an emphatic no. 

“I’m always appalled whenever Karl Mitchell has anything with a heartbeat because of his history of neglect and abuse,” said animal activist Linda Faso.

Faso has shadowed Karl Mitchell ever since he first moved to Nye County in Nevada with his cats. Her concerns prompted a local news investigation back in 1996, which found horrible conditions at Mitchell’s previous animal compound — tiny cages, rotten food, flies, feces, and lack of water. 

The USDA came in and cited Mitchell for 45 separate violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Mitchell didn’t miss a beat. “Someone like him who doesn’t respect laws at all is going to do what he wants to do,” said Faso. 

Since arriving in Pahrump in the early 90’s, Mitchell has been arrested more than a dozen times and his arrest record in California stretches back even further. He was busted for trying to drive over two fish and game wardens who were chasing him. California officials describe Mitchell as a threat to both humans and animals. 

Stylist Katie Taylor witnessed how Mitchell treated a chimp during a TV taping for Super Dave Osborne at the Rio hotel. “He started beating this chimpanzee. We were like, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘That’s how I get him to do what I want him to do — beat him in the back.’ Punching the monkey in the back, he was just a jerk,” she said.

 Mitchell lost one batch of big cats in 2005 while he was doing a two-year stretch in prison for grand theft, but now he has a new collection in the backyard of a rented house. He sells tours even though his exhibitor’s license was permanently revoked in 2001. “He didn’t seem concerned about not having one,” said Pahrump Valley Times reporter Mark Waite. 

But the story came to the attention of the USDA, which has sent inspectors to Mitchell’s place three times in recent months. A formal complaint shows the government plans to come after Mitchell once again.   

Faso worries it might come too late. Every time Mitchell conducts one of his tours, she says, he puts visitors at risk. As Roy Horn knows, tigers are unpredictable. “It is an accident waiting to happen. It’s just a matter of time,” she said. 

The idea that tigers can get out of control isn’t an idle concern. Mitchell’s former neighbors say his tigers and lions got out of their compound several times and were running free. In 2002, Mitchell shot and killed one of his tigers that got loose during a move. Two years later, one of his cats bit the finger off of Mitchell’s girlfriend at the time.

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Controversy Swirls as Circus Comes to Las Vegas

The circus is back in Las Vegas, performing this weekend at the Orleans in Las Vegas.  The Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus arrived Tuesday night for their annual visit, but this year is different. The circus is awaiting a decision by a federal judge about whether it can continue to use endangered elephants in its act. elephant

Animal welfare groups have alleged for many years that what Ringling Brothers does is inherently cruel to elephants. Now, they’re waiting to see if a federal judge agrees with them. They hope this is the end of the line for more than a century of animal cruelty. The Ringling folks are just as confident that the show will go on. 

Animal activist Linda Faso has helped organize protests against every circus to hit Las Vegas for the last two decades, arguing it is inherently cruel to endangered Asian elephants to force them into the life of a traveling carny, and the proof is in the chaining of their feet. 

Some of the most pointed testimony to emerge in a six week federal trial focused on the feet of Ringling elephants. Nearly all of the animals have foot problems to one degree or another, not only because they spend most of their lives in chains, either in rail cars or on asphalt parking lots like the Orleans in Las Vegas, but also because elephants simply aren’t built to perform the kind of tricks they are taught for the circus. 

Former Ringling elephant handler Tom Rider was one of the star witnesses in the federal trial. He told the court there is only one way to get large, intelligent creatures to don funny outfits and perform amusing tricks, and that’s thru the use of pain and fear, as manifested in the use of the infamous bullhook. Ringling has compared the bullhook to a leash for dogs, but video captured around the country shows otherwise. 

The federal trial ended last March. The judge could decide that Ringling can no longer put elephants on the road and in the show. Even if the circus prevails in the case, the groups that sued believe they’ve already made an impact. 

At the Las Vegas unloading, the traditional bullhooks were nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by smaller, less menacing devices. It’s not enough, animal groups say. “I would assume that in various cities there are a lot more people watching now, so they are being more careful, and it’s just behind the scenes. I’m sure the elephants are being chained still, in boxcars which the general public doesn’t get to see,” said Nicole Paquett, attorney for Born Free USA. 

Paquett says the federal judge has scheduled more oral arguments to be held in July, so a decision won’t happen until after those sessions. But can Ringling carry on without its elephants? The animal welfare folks say yes and they point to the success of Cirque De Soleil shows in Las Vegas and throughout the world as an example.

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