Tiger Debate Roars On

Deer Creek property owner Irena Hauser plans to bring up to five Siberian white tigers to Malibu to train for use in the entertainment industry. 

An application by two sisters in the entertainment industry to house up to five white Bengal tigers in a west Malibu residential neighborhood delivered seven hours of growling public testimony last week before the Ventura County Planning Commission, but ultimately no bite. 

Due to the abundant public response, planning commissioners did not get a chance to comment on the proposal, deferring a decision on the item until their March 13 meeting. 

Applicant Irena Hauser is seeking a permit to construct a 13,500-square-foot exercise arena and enclosures for up to five white Bengal tigers on 7.2 acres of her Deer Creek property. Hauser told the commission her family possesses years of experience training and working with the tigers. Hauser and her sister Sophia Kryszek own ISIS Preservation, which supplies the white tigers for filming in the entertainment industry. 

“We consider them part of our family,” Hauser said. “But we never forget that these are wild animals.” 

She painted a peaceful picture of her family coexisting with and training the endangered white Bengal tigers for more than 20 years and stressed there would be “no room for human error” at the facility, with plans to install chain-link ceilings and 14-foot-tall perimeter fencing on the exercise arena and enclosures. 

Planning staff and many neighbors disagreed. 

County staff is recommending the Planning Commission deny the permit application because the “project is not compatible with surrounding development,” according to planner Jay Dobrowalski. He referenced two nearby camps that operate year-round, Camp Hess Kramer and a Boy Scout Camp Site. Both are within 3 miles of Hauser’s property. 

“Even with all of these safety measures, all risk cannot be eliminated and the potential for human error remains,” Dobrowalski said. 

A contingent of opponents at the hearing maintained their outrage over the idea of keeping the tigers in a secluded part of Malibu where many residents enjoy quiet lifestyles. Decked out in matching neon yellow baseball caps and white T-shirts with “No Tigers” emblazoned across the middle of both, several residents said the tiger facility would instill a constant fear among neighbors. 

“No one should have to have their peace of mind and tranquility disturbed in this manner,” said Deer Creek resident Mike Bradbury. 

In cases of emergency, neighbors argued police and fire services would take 15 to 45 minutes to get to the facility’s secluded location, and said the Ventura County Fire Department has no response guidelines in place for tiger-related emergencies. 

Hauser has plans to move her family into a home on the Deer Creek property and said at least one expert would be on hand at the facility at all times. If some kind of emergency arose, at least two people would be present to handle the tigers and move them if need be. 

Even if one of the endangered tigers were to escape the high-level security, Hauser said they would immediately seek a familiar person or place. 

“The wild would be exceptionally frightening to these cats. They do not know how to hunt,” Hauser said. “They would instantly search for the familiarity of a safety enclosure.” 

Actress and animal activist Tippi Hedren was among the opponents of the facility. Hedren, who founded the Shambala Preserve animal sanctuary in the Antelope Valley, said despite Hauser’s assurances that the two tigers she owns are not vicious, they could still attack without warning. 

“There’s nothing you can do to take [aggressive genes] away. and that’s what makes them so dangerous. You never know what makes them go after somebody,” Hedren said. “It’s just a frightening thought.” 

Supporters of the facility, including other animal trainers and film industry representatives, defended Hauser’s zero-incident safety record and chided residents for being more concerned over runaway tigers than the everyday risk of driving or biking on Pacific Coast Highway. 

“There’s a bigger chance of getting hit on PCH then there is getting eaten by a tiger in Malibu,” said Annie Ellis, a stuntwoman and Malibu resident. 

While the staff has recommended denying the permit, the Commission could choose to approve the project. The decision is appealable to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. 

The commission is set to pick up the discussion once again on Thurs., March 13 at 8:30 a.m. Meetings are held at 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura, Calif.