May 14 (UPI) -- A Florida high school apologized after sparking outrage with a surprise appearance by a live tiger at the school's jungle-themed prom.
Students and family members said they were surprised Friday night when the Christopher Columbus High School prom at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel near Miami International Airport featured surprise animal guests including a caged tiger, a fennec fox, a lemur and two macaw parrots.
Mari-Cristine Castellanos, whose brother attends the school, posted cellphone footage of the tiger to Facebook.
"This poor tiger was used as an EXOTIC amusement for the mindless teenagers who were present, it is not the student[s] fault to be so naive BUT it's the CCHS STAFF who arranged this event, therefore they are responsible for this tiger's misery," Castellanos wrote.
Maria Del Carmen Castellanos, the student's mother, said the tiger was being mistreated.
"Mistreatment comes from a multiple of things. When you change their habitat, when you change their environment, when they are exposed to 500 screaming teenagers with fire surrounding them. Tigers are terrified of fire," she told NBC Miami.
Ron Magill, an animal behavior expert and spokesman for ZooMiami, agreed the tiger was "obviously stressed."
"The tiger is clearly looking for a way to get out of that situation, it's not difficult to interpret that behavior," Magill told the Miami Herald. "He was surrounded by people, cell phones, lights, jugglers juggling fire. I really don't know what they were thinking. Exploiting animals for entertainment at parties -- that time has passed. We know better; we've been educated."
The school said in a statement Sunday that the tiger was not harmed by the experience.
"The tiger, which was displayed for a few minutes in a cage, was never harmed or in danger, was not forced to perform, was always accompanied by his handlers, and for the great majority of the time was laying down in a relaxed state, facing away from the audience," the school said in the statement provided to WPLG-TV.
Principal David Pugh released a statement Monday morning apologizing for the stunt.
"Upon reflection, we regret the decision to have live animals at our prom," he said. "This decision in no way reflects the Marist values, teachings of the Catholic Church and/or the accomplishments of our young and that of our distinguished alumni. We remain proud of the work we do in our community by raising awareness for pediatric cancer, autism and our homeless veterans, to name a few."