Male Siberian/Bengal Tiger
DOB 1/1/93 – 5/31/16
Arrived at Big Cat Rescue 12/5/2000
Bengali was First to Arrive and the Last to Leave
It was either late 1997 or maybe 1998 when a friend of mine walked into my office and said, “You have to see this!”
That led to a road trip to secretly meet with an elephant keeper who said that he just hated tigers and would do anything to get rid of them. He was angry because his well hidden plot of dirt, where used elephants go to disappear, had been taken over by a long row of circus wagons full of tigers. I could not believe my eyes when I saw circus wagon after wagon, each with a lone tiger and a water bowl and nothing else.
No shade, no toys, no place to lay except on the hot, hard floors of the iron barred cages. The keeper said the cats had been there for a couple of years because they wouldn’t perform any more and that USDA was all over them about the conditions, but nobody wanted to spend money on building a retirement center for them because, unlike the elephants, breeding them wasn’t as lucrative. There were plenty of back yard breeders who were using cubs for photo ops and then selling them to the circuses to be used.
That began 2 or 3 years of negotiations between me and the circus to get these cats out of the beast wagons and into our sanctuary. I’d just lost my husband and the courts had seized our assets because we didn’t know where he’d gone, or if he’d be back. His kids by a former wife didn’t want any more of “their money” being wasted on feeding and caring for lions, tigers and the other hundred or so exotic cats at the sanctuary. I had to learn how to ask for money and help because I could only access a limited allowance, which was a third of what it cost to actually run the rescue. There was no way I could afford to take the 20 tigers from the circus when I knew that each cat would cost me 7500.00 in just food and vet care (back then).
The negotiations ended with the agreement that the circus would build the cages and supply the food and vet care costs and I would take the cats who were currently sitting in Williston, FL and the rest of the tigers as they got ill or stopped performing until all 19 tigers and 1 leopard were here. The caveat was that I could not tell anyone the name of the circus or they could take the cats back. I held good to that promise because I shudder at the thought of where these cats could end up.
Just before Christmas in the year 2000 the first six tigers arrived: “the bengal” (because he never had a name and was just referred to by his breed), his brother, S.A.R.M.O.T.I., Nini, Axel, Buffy and Conan. We added the i to Bengal to give him a proper name of Bengali. Bengali and S.A.R.M.O.T.I. had been reported to have been born at the infamous Siegfried and Roy nightclub in Las Vegas, but because they were the “wrong” color (golden instead of white) they were handed off to the circus. They rode in a chariot behind horses, which had to be a torment to the horses, as well as the tigers, who were restrained (use your imagination for how, but I guarantee it wasn’t “positive reinforcement”) from doing what they would naturally do to horses.
Getting records from circuses and private owners always proves challenging. The paperwork they arrived with said Bengali had been born in 1995, but later, one of the circus vets said they had records on him going back to 1993. We discovered that back in 2013 when his brother S.A.R.M.O.T.I. died. Whether he was 5 or 7 when he arrived; he was still a youngster. Tigers usually don’t begin killing their owners and trainers until they are somewhere between 5 and 7, even though they can look full grown at a year or two. When Bengali arrived his trainers said he was treacherous and would surely kill someone, but as soon as he had 2,000 square feet of space to himself, with a pond, cave, trees, bushes and grass, he became one of the happiest and most beloved of tigers who ever stepped foot on Tampa soil.
It was clear, as I tried to walk off the morning’s events, and saw ALL of our volunteers and interns crying, from one end of this 67 acre refuge to the other, that Bengal was leaving a hole in our hearts that nothing would ever fill. Bengali’s health has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the past several years. He’s been treated for a recurring ear infection, and each time has bounced back, but a week or so ago he had a seizure and bit his tongue. After that he didn’t want to eat and we couldn’t get him to take his meds. Without his pain management meds, for all of his old cat issues, he felt worse. The worse he felt, the less inclined he was to eat or take his pills. When he had a second seizure and bit the other side of his tongue we knew that it was time to let him go. He was the last of the cats from that circus.
We don’t know if he’s 21 or 23, but in either event, it’s twice as long as tigers usually live. Bengali got to spend most of that surrounded by people who love him. As we kneeled beside him for his last breaths I noticed again the scars on his elbows from the years of pacing around in the tiny circus wagon. I couldn’t hold back the tears. None of us could. If you knew Bengali, then I know you are crying too.
Please don’t let his life in the circus, and that of all the cats who have lived and died in miserable little cages for the amusement of ignorant people, be in vain. Please take the pledge to never go to a circus that uses wild animals and help end the suffering. http://nocircustigers.com
More history of Bengali Tiger
A circus commissioned Big Cat Rescue to build him, as well as several other big cats, a 2,000 square foot enclosure with a den, pool, and lots of space to lay out by the lake and soak up the Florida sunshine. They could have sold him into the pet trade or worse, but instead they sent Bengali here.
Bengali used to ride on a horse drawn chariot in the circus. When he arrived we were told that he was very dangerous because he was so confrontational. It is amazing what a change in living conditions have done for this tiger. Since his days are no longer spent on the road living in a cramped transport crate, but rather playing with his giant red ball, soaking in his pool, napping high on top of his jungle gym platform, or chuffing at his visitors, he is a very happy tiger.
Bengali loves operant conditioning sessions. Operant conditioning is a form of training that utilizes positive reinforcement to encourage natural behaviors such as “sit” and “down.” Being able to have cats like Bengali perform these behaviors on command allows our veterinarians to get a much closer and hands off look during routine examinations.
Several years ago Bengali became ill. He had been losing interest in food and was losing weight. Thanks to Bengali’s operant conditioning the vet was able to draw blood from his tail without having to sedate him. His keepers asked Bengali to lay down and kept his focus on food rewards during the entire procedure.
Sponsor Bengali http://big-cat-rescue.myshopify.com/collections/sponsor-a-cat
See More About Bengali Tiger:
September 2014 Video: Natalia Borrego, a doctoral research student from the University of Miami, conducts a research experiment with Bengali and some of the other tigers around the sanctuary. Turns out, Bengali is one smart feline (but we already knew that)! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cd1jyaymOhg
See Jamie and Carole build a tunnel to get Bengali Tiger home from “vacation” in this Wildcat Walkabout Video on April 25, 2014 – http://bigcatrescue.org/now-big-cat-rescue-april-25-2014/
July 2013 Video: Independence Day at Big Cat Rescue! Watch Bengali, Shere Khan & China Doll create some purr-fect artwork to celebrate the 4th of July! *Using non-toxic paint and 4ft x 4ft canvases the tigers had a grrreat time making “art”! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNL-KeDlPAc
Video 45 seconds: Bengali loves his big red ball. He is working hard trying to get it through the doorway between his two enclosures. The ball is bigger than the door but Bengali is determined. http://bigcatrescue.org/bengali-the-tiger-tries-to-push-ball/
Photo: Bengali gets a new pool http://bigcatrescue.org/bengali-loves-new-cat-a-tat-and-pool/
December 2008 Video: Bengali has a habit of “playing” with his water bowl which actually means desctroying it. His water bowl has been replaced a few times, watch this funny video to see how he keeps destroying his water bowl and what the staff has done to try to ‘fix’ the issue. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1ro89JLu_I
November 2006 Video: Bengali the tiger gets some new dirt and scratchin’ logs in his enclosure. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mir6rAwsTTs