By MIKE CHAIKEN
When Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus arrives in Hartford next week, besides the usual high flying performances one would expect from the iconic circus, the troupe will be offering a big cat seminar with Alexander Lacey.
Alexander Lacey is probably the one person you would want to turn to if you had questions about lions, tigers, and cheetahs.
The Briton has been around big cats since before he was old enough to attend school.
In a phone interview during one of the circus’s stops in Columbia, S.C., Alexander said, “I grew up around exotic animals since I was 4,” said Alexander. At the age of 12, he began to work around big cats. And by age 17, he was performing with the big cats.
Alexander said his access to big cats came pretty easy. His family owned two zoos in Britain.
Alexander explained that when the winter arrived, and it was too cold to open the zoo, the family turned to training the lions and tigers so they could perform in tours across the country.
These days, Alexander said he is obsessed with the big cats— even though a male lion can weigh as much as 750 pounds and tigers are probably the most efficiently designed killing machine created by nature. To be able to kiss and hug one of these animals, said Alexander, is a “great feeling.”
For the tour with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey, Alexander said he is bringing along 16 of his cats. Eleven of them are in the show while the other five, which are younger than the rest, are being prepared for future performance.
The cats have long lineages with Alexander’s clan.
The lions in the show are the 11th generation raised by his family, said Alexander. Of the tigers, Alexander said he is now working with the ninth generation raised by his family. There is also a leopard in the act, which is a rarity. Alexander hand-reared the animal himself.
Speaking with Alexander, one can tell he clearly has close relationships with his animals. But if he had to choose favorites, well, Alexander said it would depend. Some of the cats might allow you to get closer to them then other ones, so you can build a closer physical bond. While his favorites might be a little bit more prickly and aren’t so fond of being held or hugged, but he likes their personalities.
“They all have their own characters,” said Alexander. But, said Alexander, “I love them all.”
As for how he helps the animals develop their stunts, Alexander said all of the performances are geared to each particular animal’s strengths and abilities. For instance, some of the animals are more proficient at standing on their hind legs, so that is how their performance is approached. “Every animal has the capacity to perform and learn,” said Alexander. “They’re all good at their own thing… Some cats are athletic… Some are loving and we cuddle.”
“The challenge is finding what they are best at, then it’s easier to train,” said Alexander.
From there, once his animals have found their niche, said Alexander, “You put it all together and you have an act.”
And no matter what, said Alexander, “We don’t force them (to perform if they’re reluctant).”
“To expect any animal to work 500 shows (in a tour) is ridiculous,” said Alexander. Just as is the case for humans, said Alexander, the cats sometimes have a bad day and don’t want to work. If that’s the case, said Alexander, he will take the cat out of the act until it’s ready to work. In most cases, he said, the audiences won’t notice the absence.
As for what Alexander likes about working and touring with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus, he said he likes that the shows are always exciting and fantastic and very modern, especially for such a traditional form of entertainment. He also likes how the evenings are fast-paced, so if you’re not interested in one particular act, just hold on and there will be another one right after that will grip your attention.
And as someone who loves his cats, Alexander also appreciates how well-cared for the animals are. “Once my animals are happy,” said Alexander, “I’m happy.”
“My animals are content with our facilities,” said Alexander. “The transportation is done well.” He said the circus has three veterinarians on stand-by and one is available 24-7.
And the food for the animals is “incredible,” said Alexander, adding that some of his friends have even asked if they can take some of the meat home to throw on the grill.
Ringling Brothers And Barnum And Bailey Circus comes to the XL Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Hartford on Thursday, May 8 at 7 p.m., Friday, 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., Saturday, May 10 at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m. Sunday, May 11 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $100 for Ringmaster Zone. $60 for VIP, and Price Level 3 for $28.
For tickets, call 1-877-522-8499.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com
By MIKE CHAIKEN