Big cats on the prowl during Kosciusko fair

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Big cats on the prowl during Kosciusko fair

Last updated: July 8, 2009 9:05 a.m.
Kaitlin Shawgo The Journal Gazette

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Lions, tigers and … ligers?

Among horses, llamas, cows, pigs and other animals commonly seen in the Midwest, visitors at the Kosciusko County Fair this year also have the chance to observe more exotic animals.

The fair’s board of directors chose to have a “big-cat encounter” in order to offer free events for fairgoers, board President Sheal Dirck said.

A large tractor-trailer rig carrying four tigers, a lion and a liger rolled into the fairgrounds a week ago, and an unscheduled show Monday drew a large crowd, he said.

The show is put on by Clayton Rosaire, whose family owns the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, Fla.

Rosaire said he and a crew travel with a few animals to help bring in more money for the facility’s upkeep.

Instead of having the animals perform tricks, Rosaire said the purpose of the show is to educate people on how the animals live in the wild and in captivity.

“We kind of let the animals show their own individual personalities,” he said.

As visitors walked up to the trailer with strollers and elephant ears in tow, they exclaimed at seeing the exotic animals.

Winona Lake resident Emily O’Daniels, 16, said she was used to seeing tigers at zoos she’s been to, but the animals usually are farther away.

“I’ve never seen them so close,” she said.

Placed near the food vendors – and far away from other animals – the tigers, lion and liger lounged in the shade of their enclosure, napping and drinking water from bowls.

Two tigers snuggled together, which prompted cooing from their small audience.

A few spectators wondered aloud whether the big cats would prefer to be out and running in the open, but Rosaire said the animals enjoy relaxing. He also provides a pool for the tigers, which love water.

The Big Cat Habitat houses 40 large cats, 17 bears and a variety of other animals, including primates and camels. When the animals arrive at the facility, they stay there for life, Rosaire said.

Asked whether he had a favorite animal, Rosaire laughed. “You’re not supposed to,” he said, adding he especially likes working with a 750-pound tiger named Conan.

Rosaire will put on educational shows with the animals at 5 and 8 p.m. today and Thursday, and 3, 5 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Shrine parking lot.

The fair ends Saturday.

Dirck said he doesn’t know whether future fairs will feature a big-cat encounter, but he added that the large animals have been a hit so far.

“Would I have them back? Absolutely,” Dirck said.

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