Tributes to Nini Tiger
“NINI is the reason I came to BCR. Since I was a little girl, my family has always called me NINI…I don’t know why, but it stuck. So when I went to the BCR website and saw NINI, I knew I had to meet her. When I did finally meet her, we looked at one another and I instantly felt connected to her in mind and spirit. She rarely chuffed at me, but she always “talked” to me in that special way Nini had. There isn’t a room in my house that doesn’t have a Nini photo. It has been a great honor to be in the presence of such a majestic creature. It has been even a greater honor to be accepted by Nini as a friend”…..Regina, Volunteer Keeper
Namesake in Way Kambas Park
Thanks to Brian’s vision and the help of all of you who donated, Nini can live on in the wild through her namesake that lives in Way Kambas Park.
Photographed by remote camera living freely in her natural habitat on Way Kambas National Park, Sumatra. 100% of money raised finances tiger monitoring, habitat preservation, community development, anti poaching patrols, park ranger training and the purchase of essential field equipment. (Activities managed under the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Programme, a collaborative conservation partnership with the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA) of the Indonesian Department of Forestry.)
It is this field equipment – notably remote cameras that have provided us with these magnificent rare shots of these otherwise elusive wild, free animals going about their daily lives within Sumatra’s National Parks.
Every penny of your donation goes directly to the tiger projects we are supporting and helps us secure
a WILD future for WILD tigers. You can help us renew this program each year by clicking on the link below and sending us an email asking us to ear mark your donation for the Tiger in Sumatra program.
Farewell to Nini
Tribute to Nini by Brian Czarnik reported by Christy Anderson:
Every cat at Big Cat Rescue touches us with its story. Nini was a special retired Ringling tiger, not more valued than the others, but somehow different in the way she seemed to desire and allow a deeper bond of love with humans. She was a star performer for Ringling for years before she came to us. They adored her and we came to treasure her presence as well. It’s always dangerous to personify a big cat for fear of making it somehow seem tame. That is not our goal. However, if you could do that with Nini, you would say that she was a sweet person, a caring, eager-to-please person who seemed interested in people on the tours. She lived a long life and enjoyed her final years soaking up the sun at Big Cat Rescue. Kidney failure took her life, but in the end, she was the one who gave it up and decided when.
She passed this January and we are all still feeling the loss. But, sometimes even in our pain, it’s good to talk about the person or animal to help not only honor them, but to heal ourselves. The best tribute to someone is to tell the story of their life, so we want to take some time to remember her now.
As a tour guide and writer of the AdvoCat e-mail newsletter for Big Cat Rescue, I also loved Nini. I’m only one among so many who would say the same. I could count on her during my tours to really represent the majesty and curiosity of tigers like no other cat. She would be coy in her den and people would ask for her to come out. I would said, “Don’t worry, you can count on her. When we swing back by, she’ll be out for you not because she has to, but will want to”. Sure enough, each time, she would grace us with her long muscular orange and black dressed-body being sprawled out in the grass in full view by the time the tour came back by. It was almost a game for her. I respected her and never wanted to ask her to do anything she wouldn’t choose to. That’s why when she chose to, and she always did, it was much to everyone’s delight.
When I interviewed my friend and senior keeper, Brian, and asked him to tell me more about Nini’s life and her passing, he said, “The place doesn’t seem the same without her, that is for sure. What I do know is that that those of us that were feeding and cleaning her these past few months were watching for all the signs of cat that didn’t want to live. But day after day and even those that she didn’t want to eat…she would come out and sit by her pond and soak up the sun. She was waiting until she wanted to go. I wasn’t here the day she passed. I was flying in from Africa. Our manager (Scott), told me he never saw a cat go so peacefully, and that the day before she was eatin’ at a bone all tiger-like, but then come Monday she just had seemed different. We all told Nini she could go at anytime and that she had served Ringling well, and of course was a great cat to have here at Big Cat Rescue.
Brian became almost family with Nini. He said, “What an interesting life she must have had. I still have pictures of her in every room, and she will always be the first tiger friend I have ever had. I don’t know if I want to get that attached to another cat or animal, but I am glad I did with Nini.
She was always eager to say hi with a chuff, and walk over to sit by me even if her last months.”
I asked Brian about what we could do to remember her. He told me, “I put her name plate next to Ninja’s (a bobcat I also liked a lot and they are sitting in our graveyard). I was thinking of getting some kind of plaque we could put on a tree…maybe the one across from the graves where Nini used to live.. somewhere along the tour path for sure, as people loved her and she loved looking at the tours. To be truthful it still is hard for me to discuss Nini. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone: the people that helped get her here, the people that helped clean and feed her, and to everyone even if they never saw her. They are still a part of Big Cat Rescue and help take care of other cats so that those who took care of Nini had the time to do so.”
This video was made just before Nini passed on and will remind us again and again of her ability to bridge the gap between man and animal. Play video.
Ironically, Brian wrote her life story only bout a year and 1/2 ago and you can read it below. It’s her story, a beautiful story, a story of our beloved tiger and friend Nini.
NINI “The Circus Tiger”
by: Brian Czarnik
As I look around me, I am sure all of these cats have a story to tell. Some stories sad, some happy, but they all have stories and mine goes like this…
I was born into a circus family. My mother was a circus tiger and my father was a circus tiger, and from the time I was a cute little baby cub with newborn stripes, all I could remember was the circus. I now know that most tigers come from the wild and Bengal tigers (my kind) come from India, but all I knew was the circus. I can still smell the popcorn sometimes in my sleep. And other nights, I lay awake and remember how big the elephants looked when they were walking by my cage.
The workers would all touch me and they picked me up all the time. Sometimes they would bring me to the side of the stage and let me watch the other tigers leaping through hoops and walking up on their back legs for treats. I would sit there and be amazed at how high and far my father could jump. It seemed that he was the star of the show. Sometimes he would not want to do a trick and he would growl and snarl at the trainers, and the people in the audience seemed to gasp and some even cheered.
It wasn’t long at all before they started to teach me tricks. I loved to get meat snacks and soon learned that if I did what they wanted me to, the snacks would come my way. I still love to eat and it is one of my favorite things to do! If the trainer held the snack up high and said “Nini Up”, I would stand up on my feet and move forward to get it. And if the trainer said “Nini Down,” I would lay down.
Sometimes at night, I would be housed next to my parents and I would tell them all of the things I was learning to do. These seemed easy for me to do. One day, the trainers put me on top of a buggy and I noticed that some strange looking animals called horses were being brought over. They attached ropes to these animals and they pulled me around. I felt awkward because I could walk just fine, but it also was nice to get treats for just sitting still on this carriage. They fitted me with my very own sparkly pink hat and that night I finally was a part of the show.
I could see all these people coming to the big top tent. Most of them were children and they seemed excited to see all the animals, including me. This man in a big black top hat took the stage and announced that the show was beginning. The band started playing loudly and a lot of the funny looking people they called clowns walked beside me. The horses started pulling the carriage and I just sat there and listened to the people clapping as I entered the arena. I just sat still, and for the first time I was a part of the show. I tried to look over to see if my parents could see me, but neither of them seemed to be next to the stage.
As I sat on that carriage, I looked at the horses in front of me, then at all the people. I loved to see the people smiling. And for the next 15 years, this is what I did night after night after night.
Traveling on the road from show to show was fun but also difficult sometimes. There were times when I didn’t want to be moved around or perform, and I just wanted to sleep or look up at the big sky above. The train cars were filled with animals that all were a part of the show. From the great big elephants to the small goats and dogs the clowns would walk on a leash during their acts. They always seemed to put me with all the tigers. I had a very good tiger friend named “Sarmonti.” He was one of the most handsome tigers I had ever seen. His job was also to sit with me on top of the carriage sometimes. But it seemed like he didn’t like to work. Sarmonti was young and restless at times. He was always growling at the trainers and they seemed a little scared of him. He would tell me sometimes on the long train rides that the circus just wasn’t for him. He wanted to be lying on the grass and looking at the open fields and not at the buildings of the cities that we performed in.
“Where else do tigers live?” I asked him once as we were going to Chicago to perform.
“Well Nini my friend, I have heard stories that tigers live all over the world. The few wild ones live in places like India and Siberia, but almost every zoo and circus seem to have tigers. People even own some tigers as pets. Everyone just seems to love us tigers.”
“Well I am happy just as long as the people bring me food every night. I love to eat” I replied.
Sarmonti just laughed, but as we went to sleep that night I started to think if I would ever do anything besides be a circus tiger. I also wondered what happened to all the other tigers I saw in the circus? Every year we would stop traveling for one month and live at the fairgrounds and when we started to travel again there would be new baby tigers but some of the older tigers would get left behind at the fairgrounds.
One day after a show Sarmonti came over to my side of my holding pen and told me that he had great news. “I have heard that there are plans for some of the older tigers to go to a place called an animal sanctuary,” he said. “This place is here in Florida and they are making a list of all the old tigers who can no longer work and maybe they will get the chance to live out there.”
“Wow a sanctuary, I really didn’t know what the word animal sanctuary meant but it sure sounded nice.”
“Maybe they will have lots of chicken and beef for us to eat!”
“All you think about is food Nini, what if they have trees and a lake for us to look at!”
Sarmonti sure seemed excited and that night he didn’t even want to go on stage, he just wanted to be left alone, so he could dream about this sanctuary called “Big Cat Rescue.” He would refuse to go on stage night after night, and soon the trainers stopped even trying to get him to come out of his cage. They even sent him back to the fairgrounds early that year, as he was no longer working in the shows.
Six months later when the working year was over, I felt more tired than I did in any of the previous years. My back legs started to hurt and my hips were sore a lot. When we went down to the fairgrounds we found this lady who was a representative from the sanctuary named Christy walking around and speaking with our owners. All the tigers were talking about what they would over hear when the people would walk around our cages. I would pretend I was sleeping, but I would really stay up all night and try to hear all I could about this animal sanctuary.
I found out that there was this lady named Carole who lives in Tampa, and she started a sanctuary a few years ago that was now home to over 150 big cats. And now they were also going to be a home to all us older circus cats. What I never found out at the fairgrounds was what happened to my friend Sarmonti. I wondered what happened to him? Did he go to a zoo? None of the tigers seemed to know anything, and all that I knew was that I missed my best friend.
One day a big truck came right next to my cage. I watched as they loaded up two other tigers. Then all of a sudden they started moving my cage onto the truck. I paced back and fourth and was a little nervous about being moved into a dark truck. They threw in a piece of chicken and I soon settled down and started eating. “A girl has to calm her nerves somehow ya know?”
Inside the truck, I could see that the other two tigers were sleeping, so I decided to take a nap also. Tigers as well as all big cats love to sleep!
It started to get hard to fall asleep when the truck started to jerk back and fourth on a bumpy road. And soon after a bright light awoke me as the back door to the truck swung open. I couldn’t see out of the truck as the two other cages with the tigers in them, blocked my view. The first tiger “Buffy” got up in his cage and seemed excited. “Hey guys, there is a lake with two swans on it, this place looks great!”
Some guys from the sanctuary named Scott, Daniel, and Brian helped out the circus workers unload us off the truck. I couldn’t see Buffy anymore as he was already rolled down a dirt road by the time I was off of the truck. Conan the tiger was also being pushed down the road as lots of people watched and talked about us. This girl Jamie took pictures and as her camera flashed, it reminded me of all the bright lights back at the circus.
Then as the workers pushed me down the dirt road, I heard a familiar voice. “Nini, I knew you would come here old girl, I missed you!”
It was Sarmonti, and this is where he had been all along. He stood up on his back legs in excitement as they pushed me by and I thought I saw him cry a tear of happiness for me. “Welcome to Big Cat Rescue Nini, Welcome!” he happily proclaimed.
I was so excited to see Sarmonti after all this time, as well as anxious to see my new home. They got around the corner and there it was, a place to call all my own. As the workers pushed my cage up to the enclosure they opened my door and I slowly walked out. I hadn’t had my paws touching grass for so long.
It felt nice underneath my paws and I soon had all four paws set inside my new home. I looked around and saw a large red ball in one of the sides of my enclosure. I wanted to play with it and hit it around but there was so much to explore. I heard a funny noise and it sounded like it was coming from the back of my new home. But first I noticed this nice big concrete den; this was to be my bedroom. I entered it and it seemed like it would suit me just fine. Exiting the den I could see where all the noise was coming from. It was the sound of running water and it was coming from my very own pond. This was my first pond and I didn’t know how deep it was. I looked over the side and couldn’t see the bottom.
I thought to myself that I would leave that adventure for another day.
Soon all the people had gone and I felt happy to have a home all to myself. My neighbors Conan and Buffy would be nice to talk to, but across the street there was this big lion that I soon would come to know as “Sarabi,” and she didn’t seem like she liked Tigers one bit. Oh well, you can’t please them all.
In the following weeks, I noticed that this one particular person named Brian would come and sit by my enclosure and look in all the time. I would come out of my den and chuff to him, but I wasn’t sure he could understand tiger talk. Chuffing is a sound that we tigers make when we want to say hello to you. Brian seemed to sit on the outside of my enclosure by my pool and call my name as if he wanted me to get in. He did this for weeks and weeks and then finally one day I thought that I would try it, seeing how all my neighbors had gone into their already.
The water felt a little cold on my front paw. I quickly took my paw out of the water, but I didn’t want to disappoint my new friend. So I tried again and this time I walked in enough to get three of my paws in the water. I still held onto the edge of the pond tightly with my front left paw. The pond wasn’t that deep at all. Just deep enough to cool me off in the hot Florida sun. And from the pond, well, what a view!
I could look at all the ducks and the two beautiful swans on the lake. I could watch birds fly overhead and I could also keep an eye on that pesky lion Sarabi. Now Sarabi looks like a pit bull dog, but just a lot bigger, and meaner! And best all, I think I made my new human friend Brian very happy.
It wasn’t long until I got the routine down for my new home at Big Cat Rescue. In the mornings they cleaned my enclosure and then in the evening time I got food like chicken and steak on my plate. I love to eat and my big belly shows it! And at times during the day people walked around me and said hello and gave tours about all the cats we have living out here. I couldn’t see most of my neighbors, as there were many trees around keeping us all shaded, but I sure could smell some and hear them. Tigers have a great sense of smell as well as great eyesight. And with my eyes I could see lynx, bobcats, leopards, and of course lions!
I really like it when the manager of Big Cat Rescue, Scott, mows my lawn. I don’t mind at all going into my lock out room for a while as he mows the grass and makes sure that I have the best lawn on tiger row. Then he opens the door and I like to run out and roll around in all the freshly cut grass. People always laugh when I roll around, and I like to see the smiles on their faces. But really, I don’t know what is all that funny about a tiger rolling around on its belly in the grass. Seems like a normal tiger thing to do to me.
It seems like there is so much work to do out here. I wish I could help. I see people in pick up trucks driving by with tree branches and grass clippings in the back.
I see people in golf carts going by with filtered water to be brought out to the little guys called Sand Cats. I see children out here on field trips, but the best thing of all is seeing all the volunteers walk around with wagons full of food for all of us cats. It seems like no matter what there is always something going on out here. Once I even saw two tigers being brought past the lion’s area to their new homes. I knew they would love it here. Seems like we always get new tigers. I think that there are more tigers out here than people. Even sometimes late at night, I think like once a month, they bring people around at night with flashlights for a special tour. I love the nighttime as I, as well as all cats, have special nighttime vision. I can see the people walking up to my enclosure way before they can see me.
Here in Florida we have some scary storms in the springtime. The weather gets really hot and all us cats like to do is sleep all day. But then at times the big gray storm clouds roll in and the rain starts pouring down from the sky. During bad storms the wind picks up and the large trees all around us start to sway back and fourth. But we are never too afraid as the people who live out here always seem to be walking around and making sure that we are dry and safe in our homes. It makes me almost feel like I should be helping out too, like I should also be out there in the pouring rain…wait a minute, am I crazy? Now that I think about it, they have it all under control.
There was this one-day in which the volunteers called me into my lock out room and I went in there guessing that it was time for them to cut my grass or something. One of them stayed and watched me as the others went into my home with buckets.
I wondered what they would be doing with buckets. They all came out as quickly as they came in and I was soon let out of the lock out and ventured out to see what they had brought me. I walked all around my enclosure and past my big red ball and then I looked into my den…”Nothing in here” I thought.
All I knew was that all this walking around was making me hot and tired, I thought that a good dip in the pool would be a nice idea. Maybe I could watch the swans swimming or look over into the lion’s area to see what that crabby Sarabi was doing today. I placed one big paw into the pond and noticed something in there moving about.
It was a school of goldfish and they were all mine. “Wow, my very own pets!”
I could hear splashing coming over from both Conan’s and Buffy’s homes and they were having a ball scooping up the fish and eating them. “Hey Nini isn’t this fun? Look at them swim around!” boasted Buffy.
I didn’t want to eat mine… no way. They could keep my pool clean and also keep me company when I needed someone to talk to and all the others were sleeping.
The volunteers all thought I was such a strange old tiger for not wanting a good snack of fish that day. But I still have my fish today and they are the prettiest fish of all the ponds. Well, I guess they are the only fish in any of the ponds, but that’s ok.
Big Cat Rescue offers guided tours in which the people get to walk around and look at all of us amazing big cats. They also get to hear all of our stories as well as what is the latest news and information on us interesting animals.
I live on a corner that comes right before the people start their walk to see the big lions. It also is just across the street from the cemetery where they honor all the great cats that lived here before me. The tour groups always stop and watch me sleeping or sometimes I am in the pool. I don’t know what the big deal is to see a tiger, but I think that I like to look at the people just as much as they like watching me. It seems that they like to take lots of pictures of me and sometimes children are a little afraid to get too close to my enclosure. I like to listen in and hear the guides telling the people that the tigers on this row all used to be great circus cats, and that we now live out the retired life. They also tell people that no two tigers have the same stripes and how strong we are.
I really like it when Brian leads the tours as he always tells his people that I am the most beautiful tiger in the whole world and that we are best friends. I always answer back with my chuffing sound that I make. We are the best of friends. I also like to stalk Conan when he is busy watching the tour. Sometimes I can scare him enough that he jumps up in his home and runs to the other side. I love being a tiger as we can creep up on just about anything. We walk on the tips of our padded paws and we make no noise at all. We are so quiet that we can even sneak up on other tigers.
Recently when I was eating and noticed some volunteers attaching a smaller cage on wheels to Conan’s cage. He was in his lock out and didn’t look so good. I heard some of the workers telling each other that he needed to go to the veterinarian’s (animal doctor) office for a check up.
I saw him slowly walk into the cage and they wheeled him across from my lock out as they were planning on loading him up first thing in the morning. I waited until all the people left as us tigers like to talk to each other in private. I didn’t stalk him, as I knew he was not in the mood to play around, something was wrong.
“Conan friend, what is wrong?” “Are they taking you to the doctor?” I asked.
“They sure are, I leave in the morning. I just don’t feel good anymore. My old bones are sore Nini.”
“Well, when you come back I will save a piece of chicken for you. “And you know how much I like chicken.” I was trying to get him to laugh, but it didn’t seem to be working. Conan looked very tired. He was only a year younger than I was. He was 18 years old, and that is old for a tiger.
“Conan you just have to get better, you just have to…don’t go to cat heaven yet. Please.”
“Nini,” he replied quietly, “I have already spent the past three years in cat heaven, and I have had a wonderful time here with you, even when you were trying to scare me.
I loved meeting all the people here and I enjoyed watching over the lake and seeing the ducks fly in and out of it.”
I noticed a smile come across his great handsome face and his big white teeth sparkled.
“I love you Conan and you will come back.”
He didn’t say anything and I was still sleeping the next morning when they came and took him to the vet. Later that night at feeding time he still hadn’t come back, and I noticed some of the people had sad looks on their faces. It was all that I needed to see to tell me that my dear friend would indeed not be coming back. I spent the night looking over at his empty lock out and then right as I was walking to go to bed I turned and ran towards his home like I had done so many times before. One last stalking for old times sake.
Last week it rained so much that my den started to flood. Florida has such terrible rainy seasons sometimes. It was no big deal as I just started to sleep in my lock out room as that is my favorite room anyway. Any room that has food in it is my favorite!
Brian likes to put fresh fallen pine needles from the big pine trees out here in my lock out because my old bones like the soft feeling and I also love the pleasant smell of the pine.
And they also put a roof on my lockout for the rainy season. No matter what you need they try to do it. That is why I love it out here. They make you feel like you are the only cat in the place.
Even though I know there are so many other cats out here from all around the world. I have heard the volunteers talking about Leopards, Caracals and Servals from Africa. And even Bobcats and Cougars from here in the United States.
There just are so many species of cats out here. Too many for me even to keep track of.
I wake up every day happy that I live at Big Cat Rescue. I have such a wonderful life living out here. Who would have thought that a circus cat like me would some day have my very own swimming pool, trees to scratch my claws on, tall grass to hide in, big red ball to bite on, and all of my special friends that I get to chuff to every day.
Every cat does have a story to tell and mine has a happy ending for sure. As I sit here and look at the big lake and all the neat clouds in the sky, I feel that this is the best thing next to being out there in the wild. And here they bring you the food right to your plate!
I love it out here!
Story and Photos: Brian Czarnik ©2004
Photo of Nini and Brian Beth Stewart ©2003
Nini died at the old age of 22 on January 16, 2006 and her story, as told by her friend Brian was posted here as a tribute to her. Nini was one of those rare animals who could easily bridge the gap between man and beast. Even people who were not otherwise in touch with the spiritual One-ness that we all share would exclaim, “Nini spoke to me just as clearly as if she were speaking my own language!” She was greatly loved and will be dearly missed.
Nini relaxing in her pool with Brian by her side
Brian Czarnik has volunteered and lived at Big Cat Rescue since April 2000.
Big Cat Rescue (www.bigcatrescue.org) in Tampa, Florida is a non-profit sanctuary and is home to about 150 cats of all shapes and sizes. Nini is currently one of a dozen retired circus cats.
Brian grew up outside Chicago and went to college for English literature at the University of Illinois. It was there he discovered his love of writing and has had several pieces published.
Brian now spends his days working at nearby Lowry Park Zoo as an animal caretaker, and also at Big Cat Rescue making sure Nini has the best life she could ever ask for. His hobbies include playing music and taking black and white photos of the animals he loves so much at Big Cat Rescue. He would like to thank all the staff and volunteers at B.C.R. including Scott and Carole for making his dream of caring for tigers a reality.
And of course he wishes to thank Nini for being the best tiger friend a human could ever ask for.