Missouri man works to educate public about his performing tigers

When asked what he does for a living, Ryan Holder has probably one of the more interesting answers: “tiger trainer.”

“It’s really cool,” Holder, 29, said, thinking back at the various reactions he’s received from people upon learning what he does for a living. “Literally … only a handful of people get to do what I do.”

So what does this Springfield native do all day? Holder, owner of ShowMe Tigers, trains and shows off his big cats. In all, he owns seven of them — Zola, Zahara, Zeya, Zuri, Zulu, Zeus and Diego: two boys and five girls. They range from 2 to 13 years old. And he teaches them some tricks along the way. The cats then strut those tricks in front of thousands across the United States each year, mostly through various circus outfits.

Holder’s big cats will be one of the more popular attractions on display when the Carden International Circus performs Tuesday through Thursday at Joplin’s Memorial Hall.

According to the Sioux City Journal, the ShowMe Tiger production begins with a 500-pound tiger placing its head on Holder’s shoulder for a scratch behind the ears, and it ends with another tiger doing the famed Michael Jackson moon-walk across the floor. Unlike other tiger acts, Holder doesn’t use any props, such as a circle of fire. Rather, he displays to audiences the rapport the tigers have with him and vice versa; the tigers work together and use each other as props, he said. He wants audiences to see the love and respect he has for “his boys and girls,” as he calls his cats.

Taking care of the Bengal/Siberian cats — training them, feeding them, playing with them, attending to their individual needs — is a “24 hour a day” job, Holder said. He owns the tigers, drives them from one performance to the next; he bathes them, cleans them and exercises them.

“They are my life,” he said.

Having always been intrigued by exotic animals at a very young age, Holder joined the circus at the age of 21 and, soon after, became the outfit’s lead tiger trainer.

“They are not pets. With a pet, the animal revolves around them. Here, my life revolves completely around my cats,” he said.

His goal is to ensure the cats are “cared for, comfortable and content.” After all, while the general public pays for the final results, they rarely get a glimpse into his relationship with the tigers on a day-to-day basis.

To educate them — as well as to counter what Holder calls a “vocal minority” who claim that what he does, and circuses in general do, is animal abuse — he’s very active on his ShowMe Tigers Facebook page. Nearly every day, he posts pictures or videos showing his interaction with his tigers, whether it’s teaching a new recruit some basic tricks or showing his striped cats dozing after consuming a large dinner of beef and chicken and organ meat.

He has also raised thousands of dollars to save tigers in the wild as well as donating to the International Elephant Fund, which strives to save elephants on the island of Sumatra.

“I love doing what I’m doing … and being able to share my tigers with others,” he said.

Want to go?

Circus tickets are now on sale: $16 for children and $18 for adults. Go to https://tickets.supershrinecircus.com for more details.


Read the original article at joplinglobe.com here.

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