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
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!
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
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