Living With Big Cats: The Story of Jungle Larry, Safari Jane, and David Tetzlaff

Rendell, Sharon

Published by Izs Books, 1995
ISBN 10: 0964260409 / ISBN 13: 9780964260405
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Softcover. 222pp. Fine. Very little shelfwear. Interior clean and marked. Signed by Safari Jane. Bookseller Inventory #

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Synopsis: "This is the Cat Book of the 90s," says Circus Report.

* National award-winning book for non-fiction writing

* Behind the scenes experiences raising and working with tigers, leopards, lions

* Rapport of trainers and their charges

*Interviews with famous trainers (incl. David Tetzlaff, Jack Hanna

* How animal shows have changed over the years

* When things don't go as planned -- Humorous stories

* Over 100 photos -- many in Color

From the Author: "Training is developing an animal's natural tendencies on cue. You can't force them. A lot of times you try to get an animal to do something and you see their heart and soul aren't in it physically, emotionally, mentally-so forget it. Try it with another cat and that cat may zip right into it." David Tetzlaff

When David first acquires a young tiger or leopard, he simply cares for it and earns its trust. Like most other trainers, he usually waits until the cub is about eleven months old before attempting to train it. The initial training can be as quick as five or six months or as long as a year and a half.

Training, Presenting, and Handling

The dangers of training are lessened by the right approach. Clyde Beatty said that you can't trust the animal, but the animal must have absolute trust in the trainer. David adds that to the cat, the trainer is a parent figure. When David hand raises a cub, it sees him as its father. The dependence fosters trust. The close relationships also encourage mutual respect.

Some behaviors are more natural for cats to do so they are easier to train. These include sitting on command, lying down, and jumping through a hoop.

Other tricks are more difficult such as walking on hind legs, being draped over the trainer's shoulders (leopards, not tigers) and rolling over as a group. Once the animals know the tricks, the trainer still must assemble the individual tricks into a complete act.

Usually, the audience assumes that the act they see was trained by the person in the ring. Often this is not true. Three distinct occupations may be involved: handler, presenter, and trainer. A handler helps to feed and transport the animals and provides basic care. The presenter guides the animals through their act. These animals may have been trained by someone else; the trainer takes green (untrained) animals and teaches them tricks.

David elaborated, "Some presenters work an act so long that they start to believe they've trained it. But the difference between training and presenting is like the difference between performing music you have written and just playing someone else's composition in public.

"If you can put a leash on a tiger and walk him, you're a handler. If you can take that tiger into the ring, teach him to sit up, walk backward on his hind legs, and jump through a hoop, then you're a trainer. In between you have people who can present trained animals. That also takes know-how, guts, and determination, but to do what I and my closest peers do-put a whole act together-that makes a trainer."

Elements of Training

A number of elements must come together to make a good act: The teachable animals must know their tricks; the trainer must cue the animals and constantly watch them for any problem; the music must go well with the act. And the animals must be able to work with each other and do this in the presence of many people and unpredictable background noise.

"Some animals trained without lights and crowds can get stage fright. David says, "I train in front of people, which is an important advantage. Tigers don't mind people so much, but leopards, the minute they see someone, they're off their seat.

"Playing a radio while training helps too. My cats have to contend with a roller coaster in Ohio. Tigers get used to sleeping under the roller coaster. A circus cat might see all kinds of stuff, but take him to a roller coaster and it might turn him inside out. Take my cats to a circus and they might freak out at spotlights and clowns. It's just whatever they get used to."

The training situation resembles that of students and teacher in a classroom: The animals' personalities, trainer's attitudes, and the atmosphere all have to come together for the best results. David said, "A mouthy kid in a teacher's class isn't useless; he may just be vocal about what the class is told to do. Just because a cat barks at me one time, I'm not going to be scared and not work with it. But if an animal is uncooperative-if it doesn't want to do some behavior-forget it. You can only reinforce what it likes doing."

He told me, "I had one black leopard do a trick-jumping over a high rope and another leopard's head. [In the trick, the leopards walk on two tightly-strung parallel ropes. One leopard sits on them, while the other comes from behind and jumps over the sitting leopard.] She worked it nicely for two years without a hitch. Then one day she wouldn't do it, so that was the end of it. You can't force them to do something they don't want to do. Critics come in and say an animal can be pushed to do anything. If that was possible, everyone would have an amazing act."

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Living With Big Cats: The Story of Jungle ...
Publisher: Izs Books
Publication Date: 1995
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Fine

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