Purrrrrfect! but no Tony the Tiger
Rare Bengals at the Cass County Fair wow audience.
Tribune Staff Writer
CASSOPOLIS -- Nina, "The Diva" and eight of her catty friends, including three "snow white" types entertained visitors at the Cass County Fair on Tuesday.
With the prodding of audience cheers and a "meat treat" (read: raw beef) the Bengal tigers of the Marcan Tiger Preserve in Florida played with their trainers, rolled on gigantic balls and stood on stools in a large fenced-in cage.
The half-hour show was equal parts educational, entertainment and a call to help the wild animals from becoming extinct in their native India.
The tigers revealed a playful prowess through awe-inspiring tricks but also showed the audience tender moments of cuddling with their two trainers, who are both from Indianapolis.
The tigers purrrform three times each day of the fair at 3, 6 and 9 p.m.
With soaring temperatures, one would think the sleek tigers could become finicky or even ferociously grouchy, but tiger expert Michael Inks said the animals are used to sticky climates.
Inks introduced the tigers and narrated on a loud speaker what trainer Andy Spolyar was coaxing each animal to do.
Periodically Spolyar sprayed water from a hose on the tigers' backs.
Three of the Bengal tigers in the show are part of an elite, nearly extinct group called snow white tigers.
"They haven't been seen in India in 100 years," Inks told the audience.
"They are the most rare. There are 25 in existence and we have three here," he said, referring to Lazarus, Madras and Kanpur.
While the tigers' trainers play with the tigers like it's just a day in the park with a dog, Inks said the tigers are not tame.
While tigers in the Marcan Tiger Preserve interact with humans daily, they still exhibit their natural instincts, especially at feeding time.
The tigers are fed in separate cages and are given about 20 pounds of beef each day, he said.
Nina, the "undeniable star" of the group because of her independence and her small size, lived up to her name by being nearly the last of the group to lie down on command during the show.
"We loved it," said Cassopolis mother Becky Daniels, who brought her daughter and some friends to the tiger show.
"We have cats, but not that big," she added.
The tigers are headed next to the Iowa State Fair and then back home to Florida, said Inks.
"Standing eight feet away we want people to be awed by them," he said.
And the Marcan Tiger Preserve hopes people will want to help keep them from becoming extinct.
Staff writer Carol Draeger:
Carole Baskin, Founder of Big Cat Rescue
12802 Easy Street
Tampa, FL 33625 MakeADifference@BigCatRescue.org