By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- Many area children and adults caught their first glimpse of a tiger at the Shenandoah County Fair this week.
Fairgoers visiting the Tiger Talks attraction will see the felines obey for a trainer and perform tricks that include climbing on risers and rolling over -- all for small bits of raw meat.
Members of at least one local family had not seen the giant felines in person until they watched Tiger Talks on Tuesday. Betsy Brown of Woodstock joined friends and relatives at the fair for the demonstration.
"You don't get to see anything like this very often, so it was really a treat," Brown said after the show. "I don't think we're going to get tired of seeing something like this."
"They're just gorgeous animals," Ashley Marston said.
Brown added that her group planned to go back to see a later show.
Doug Terranova, of Dallas, has 42 years of experience working with animals. He served as emcee and talked to the audience as trainer Carlos "Niché" Rivas led the animals through a series of activities in the cage. During the 30-minute show, Terranova talked about each animal, described their behavior and explained the steps taken by the trainer to lead the tiger through the routine. Terranova also gave the audience bits of trivia about tigers.
Tigers sleep 18-20 hours a day and spend the rest of the time awake for two reasons -- to eat or to breed, Terranova told the audience. The show's operators are required to give the animals at least four hours of exercise per day if they are in the smaller cages, Terranova said before the show.
"There's so many misconceptions out there and so many stories basically that people always ask us, 'how do you get them to do the things they do,' and we actually break it down and show you," Terranova said.
The seven tigers in Tiger Talks range in age from a 4-month-old white Royal Bengal to an 18-year-old Siberian mix named Kendall, who weighs about 500 pounds. The names of the other tigers are Kismet, Abby, Leah, Maya, Lola and Dayo. Trainers began working with Dayo the first day of the tour so audiences can see the process from the beginning, Terranova said.
Consistency remains important for the tigers in the traveling show.
"We try to keep their areas constant so no matter what situation we have with the fairgrounds our area inside this barrier fence is always the same," Terranova said.
At an earlier stop at a fair on the tour, Terranova recalled his act was placed near the large carnival rides. That made the 2-year-old twin tigers "very nervous." The young tigers are slowly overcoming their uneasiness with the carnival rides at the Shenandoah County Fair, Terranova said.
"We've got animals here that have very little training all the way up to some that are polished and know what they're doing," Terranova said. "You'll never see two shows that are the same."
Tiger Talks has attracted negative fanfare and protesters, including picketers in Lima, Ohio, Terranova said. The show does haul the animals in transport cages that usually create the most controversy, he said. While at the fairs and carnivals, the animals reside in the truck between shows. He said the tigers have room to stand, turn around and socialize with each other inside the truck.
At their home in Dallas, Terranova said the tigers live in a 2,400-square-foot yard with a pool, tunnel and trees.
None of Terranova's tigers came from the wild. He explained that no tigers have been imported from the wild since the enactment of the Endangered Species Act in 1975.
"The people that are doing the majority of the complaining about our show -- and we got it in the last town and we're not immune to being picketed or having things written about us -- but the majority of the people who do the complaining have never seen our show and have never seen our animals and they just have a philosophical and a political difference from the thing we do," Terranova said.
The show so far has not attracted protesters at the Shenandoah County Fair.
Terranova said he and the trainers have lived with and raised the majority of the animals. This relationship allows the trainers to observe the animals to better ensure the tigers' health and safety, Terranova said. Tiger Talks has to have its animals seen by a veterinarian at a minimum of every 30 days, whether they appear healthy or not, he said.
Tigers receive mental and physical stimulation each day and in different ways than the animals would get at a zoo, Terranova explained. As the animals play with equipment, the trainers use that activity to guide their training exercises.
"When we decide which behavior an animal's going to learn we watch them do it first," Terranova said. "We watch them play."
The white tiger enjoys playing with the blue barrel.
"She can use her natural balance and ability to show that off to the public doing something she enjoys doing," Terranova said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org