A Circus Performer? Who, Me?

I don’t remember ever wishing I could be a circus performer. The closest

Yes, that's me on the elephant. It was a fun experience!

I’ve come is during our recent stay in Sarasota, Florida, and my ride on a circus elephant. I’m sure that anyone who has ridden a tame elephant, knows you just settle in, with legs hugging a very broad back while being led around a circle. Do take notice of my waving hand as I try to fake the performance of a professional. A hand stand was not even slightly considered.

Sarasota is the “Circus Capital Of The World,” and circus acts and performances are plentiful here. It all began when John Ringling first visited the town in 1909 and then in the 1920’s moved his circus headquarters here. Many other circuses followed giving the area a unique identity. The Ringling home, museum and art collection are attractions that just may set a person’s heart to wishing that they could have been a part of such an exciting industry. Today, as its legacy continues, the town has its own resident circus. A school is also operated, offering training to those talented individuals with a heart for circus performing.

My husband and I visited the circus last year, so we decided to see the performance at “The Big Cat Habitat.” It is so named because homes are provided for abandoned tigers, lions and other animals. This time of the year, a special celebration is held. Many acts join in the event in support of the work at the “Big Cat Habitat.” It’s during the event that funds are raised to enable the work to continue here and on this day there were also camels, elephants, bears, all sized monkeys, farm animals and exotic birds, but mostly big cats. We learned that there are only about 3000 tigers living in the wild today.

More goes on here than just supplying homes for these animals. Kay Rosaire is a big cat lover, and eighth generation animal trainer from one of England’s most respected families of animal trainers of both lions and tigers. Her son, Clayton represents the ninth generation in this animal handling family and did a magnificent job during the big cats’ performances. He began entering the cages, to face the animals alone, at age 17. The Rosaires think of the big cats as friends and train them through a system of rewards. Their emphasis is for conservation of these majestic, big cats and endangered species. They did remind the audience to never trust a tiger and that big cats make poor pets.

We’d never seen pigs perform before, but they did here. Included was a delightful dog act, and a very talented acrobatic performance on the backs of trotting horses. The big cats stole the show with the elephants coming in second. Glad one of them still had the energy to be involved in my one and only circus performance.

8 thoughts on “A Circus Performer? Who, Me?

  1. Hi Shirl, I enjoyed your blog about the circus; and I also enjoyed the pictures. A long time ago, when Dominick was small, we took an elephant ride, too; and I do remember that it had a very wide back to straddle. I could feel the animal’s power, as it lumbered along the perimeter of a circular ring, being led by its trainer. As I recall, we had this experience at one of the county fairs that is held locally. I have not been to a circus, since I was very small; however we have seen many animals perform, as circus animals do. We’ve seen performances at Disney in Florida and also at Six Flags Great Adventure. Six flags has a wonderful big cat show that they have been presenting for the past three years or more. The big cats are certainly impressive; and the show that they put on is very memorable! I know that I certainly would not want to be in the arena with them!!!! Their trainer had them jumping up, after big chunks of meat and diving into a pool to retrieve items. The big cats also retrieved treats (rewards) for their trick performances.The pool had (clear sides) for viewing. It is amazing to observe the strength and prowess of these big cats!! The circus is a good way to get up close and personal with these magnificent animals; and it certainly lets you see how intelligent they are, too!! Several years ago, a big cat escaped in our area. When this happened, they first thought that it was a cat from the Six Flags Park. However, there was a woman, also in the Jackson area of NJ, who had been keeping big cats for entertainment purposes. She had long since given up using them for performances, and she was keeping them in poor conditions, allowing them to freely breed (not separating males from the females); and she was feeding them with road kills that good samaritans brought to her. To make a long story short, my husband was involved in tracking down this escaped big cat. Tracking it in the wooded areas of Jackson was very dangerous and they were not able to dart it with an effective tranquilizer. The animal was put down, as it neared dusk, on the day that it had escaped. The fear was that it would kill or injure someone, and they needed to get control of it quickly, before that happened. The woman who owned the big cats was investigated; and it was found that she did not have the permits needed to keep them and she certainly did not have the facility or funds to house them properly. They were eventually moved to other zoo facilities that were suitable. Several of the cats were in very poor health and they had to be put down. My husband saw these magnificent cats “up close and personal”, on the days that he had and other officers had to go out and count them…before they were eventually relocated to the other facilities. (Law enforcement officers for Fish & Wldlife had to count them each day, to be sure that none escaped, while suitable housing was found for them.) The story about this incident was in all of the local newspapers; and there is even an episode about it, that runs occasionally on animal planet. (My husband also appears in it!) I agree with you, the big cats are one of the most amazing circus performers. Thanks for sharing you blog!

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  2. hi shirley i loved seeing you ride the elephant..i like the circus and all the acts..but getting on an elephant i dont think i could..but you did well as a performer,,love you ada mae

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  3. You look great on the elephant! I really thought I’d see a picture of you smooching a tiger though. lol. Can’t say I blame you for not kissing one. Such huge powerful animals. What always amazes me is that each animal and bird has it’s own personality. Makes me wonder if every bug does too. What an amazing God to create all those fabulous animals!

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  4. Hi Shirley, Your Circus story brought back many memories of going to the circus as a child and watching them on TV as well. There’s something fascinating about seeing humans interacting with wild animals. During the 3 1/2 years I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, I flew my mother out for a visit twice. Her second trip out west, we went to “Out Of Africa” a tiny open air type stadium. It was actually a few bleachers surrounded with a tall fence and barbed wire between us and the animals and the trainers who performed with them.
    They told us these animals were not tame but wild animals who would perform for treats. The animals and trainers had a mutual respect for each other and lived together peacefully. However, while we were watching one show a trainer (a rookie) made a move a lion did not approve of and the Lion let him know it by holding the trainer by the side, back from his neck to his waist. It took about 12 minutes and the efforts of 7 other trainers to get the llion to release his grip. The announcer kept telling us to remain quiet and insisted the man was not in major danger, he said the Lion was making a statement of superiority over the young man. About 1/2 hourr and 27 stitches later, the embarressed and humbled trainer returned to center Cage (pun intended) to the cheers of the crowd and mom and I.
    That was an amazing experience because it showed us two things. These performers are amazing, strong and courageous people and the Panthers, Tigers, Lions and Bears in this or any show, demand respect and require dignity… Just like us! =o)

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    • Hi Billy: What a story! The amazing thing is that the man went back in. I can’t imagine being held in the grips of a lion’s jaw for as long as he was. Nice hearing of your mom, she was special. I’ll think I’ll stick with house cats. I look for your response with each new post. Thanks.

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