Running With Tigers

by Doug Higley

 

I was watching my usual regimen of Animal Planet and commenting to my self that Steve Irwin is a certified nut case when it comes laying his butt on the line to entertain folks. Of course at the same time, I was being entertained by this guy who handles dangerous wildlife like they were just nice pets.
 

Then...I remembered when I was a certified nut case and did the same thing...once or twice.
 

It was in Anchorage Alaska in the 70's. Parley Bare's Flying Circus had come to town partnered with Gene Holter's incredible Wild Animal Circus. What a show!
 

It was also my first time as a side show operator on a little midway, set up in the big tent that led to the entrance to the main show. I had bought a little pickled two headed pig from Peter Hennen and was showing it as "HOGZILLA The Two headed Monster!" I was right across from a magician who had set up a "Headless Woman"...man did we have fun! I was also on the radio at the time but had taken a week off to do the show and get my feet wet in the Grind Show biz.
 

Anyway...during the Big Circus Show of course there was no one on the midway...so...being 'show-biz' at heart and rather stupid, I said "Yes" when Gene Holter asked me if I'd like to appear in his Circus.  Gene's show seems to have existed well before there were such things as Lawyers. There were dangerous animals everywhere! The HUGE Hippo would walk around the main arena unfettered...walk right up to the crowd now and then! Volunteers were brought from the audience to interact with all forms of terrifying critters...including Camels. Gene's show highlight, was a wild animal race with Camels and the Hippo and Ostriches with poor folk from the crowd, on board to get beat to a pulp as the creatures made a mad dash across the arena floor. Gene said..."Why not try racing one of the Camels?...I said "OK". After the race, my more tender parts that are usually covered up screamed "YOU IDIOT!" So...a 2nd appearance as a camel racer was out of the question. Gene said "Why not wrestle the Tiger?" I said "OK".
 

The 'Tiger' was a full grown Bengal, a healthy monster of about 500 lbs. Have you ever heard an adult male Tiger ROAR...about 3 inches from your face? Very similar to an Atomic Bomb going off next to your ear. But that was the 2nd time I ran with the big cat. The first time was kind of fun. Gene's son held a very LONG chain to which the Tiger was fastened. My job was to run by the cat like a 6'3"  toy mouse filled with catnip. The Tiger would crouch...target...and take off like a rocket after my fleeing backside. When he caught you...and he always caught you...he stood up and hit your back with the front paws...you went down in a heap with 500 lbs of snarling Godzilla standing over you waiting for you to move. When you did, he grabbed your arm or leg or whatever in his teeth...surprise...it was a very gentle bite. Now I had been cautioned that once the cat had his teeth in place on a body part NOT TO MOVE...not even a teeny bit. (You have any idea how hard that is Not to do?)  When the cat felt movement he would bite a bit harder...move again... harder... then he would get mad. Don't make him mad. Also do not let him feel ANY resistance...any resistance would bring a clamp down of those teeth. You wouldn't like that. Don't move. I didn't. The Tiger released his grip...the chain was gathered up and the nice man said "Ok Doug...GO!" I got up and took off in the other direction and me and 'Tigger' did it all over again. This time piece of cake. And I thought.."This is so cool!  I had hired a photographer to take photos of my daring adventure in the Jaws Of Death! Yeah right. The photographer was somewhere else and didn't get any shots! Crap.
 

OK...show #2. "Ladies and Gentlemen! Joining us today from KHAR Radio is someone you all know...wrestling our 500 lb. Bengal Tiger in the center arena is Doug Storm! (my stupid radio name) I came out...nice applause...the damn cat was already crouched...his tail was twitching...ears back...not a good sign. I had worked in Zoos and was an amateur student of the Big Cats...so even I knew this feline was ready to Rock and Roll.
 

I took off...the chain was let out...that cat passed me at about 1200 miles an hour, (or was it Warp 9?) did a spin turn and with his right massive paw swiped my legs out from under me. Down I went...he was on me in an instant...I was on my back this time and was attempting to roll over...it was then that he let out a full ROAR IN MY FACE...3 inches away...his eyes blazing into mine...I diverted my eyes so as not to seem a challenge...(yeah right)...as I quivered...he backed off and got a hold of my leg...again a gentle bite holding me till the trainer approached reeling in the chain. The Tiger had made his point. I knew with absolutely no question what it was to be Prey. Something everyone should experience once in their life. Yeah...right.
 

Years later, I worked around Tigers again while helping with promotions for a radio station and Marine World Africa USA. Nice Tigers. Especially Naj...a huge male stud cat...I had the pleasure of taking Naj for a walk through Caesar's Tahoe Casino and on the back of a small truck in a parade (in the rain) in Carson City. There I was with a bunch of towels drying off a 500 lb Tiger as he lay calm watching the crowds go nuts. His only flaw...he marked EVERYTHING where ever he went! The smell was/is rather unforgettable.

As to my exploits as a Tiger Wrestler, that ended with the ROAR thank you. I wasn't THAT stupid! Sadly the photographer never did get the photos...but my brain did.  Steve Irwin, eat your heart out!

 

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