Recent events turn tigers into circus headliners

BY M. SCOTT MORRIS

Daily Journal

A little bit of Las Vegas probably will be on the minds of people in Tupelo when the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus comes to town.

While Roy Horn – half of the famed magician duo Siegfried & Roy – recovers from wounds sustained during a well-publicized tiger attack in Nevada, Andy Spolyar will step into a cage with seven Bengal tigers in Mississippi.

“(Horn) got injured. You can call it mauled or attacked or whatever. Something happened. The tiger did something he shouldn't do, grabbed onto (Horn) and pulled him off stage. I'm not certain why,” Spolyar said during a phone interview from a circus stop in Pascagoula. “What we really rely on is we always know they're tigers, especially ours because we don't de-claw them. All of our tigers have all of their teeth and all of their claws, which adds a little more risk and we're aware of that. They are tigers.”

Tiger man

Roughly five years ago, Spolyar took a break from his studies to spend a year working with Joseph Marcan, who is renowned for his Bengal tiger breeding program in Florida.

“I just fell in love with the cats, and I haven't left since,” Spolyar said. “Basically, I spend 365 days a year, 24-7 with the tigers. Whether we're at home, with the circus or wherever we are, I'm with the tigers. Our No. 1 line of defense is our relationship with the animals.”

Most people have seen the traditional orange tiger with black stripes, as well as white tigers with black stripes, he said.

“We also have two golden tabbies here, and they're orange with sort of cinnamon stripes, and those are quite rare,” he said. “We also brought one snow white Bengal tiger with us, which are all white with little or no stripes at all. There are only around 15 of those in the world.”

Variety show

The big cats won't be the only story when the circus tent goes up at Ballard Park. The 119th edition of the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus will feature high-wire walkers, trapeze artists, clowns, elephants, camels and more.

“We have some fantastic acts,” said Adam Hill, the circus' animal superintendent. “We have the Romeiros from Brazil. They have a fantastic teeterboard act. (One of them) does a double back somersault off a single stilt off the teeterboard – not two stilts, one stilt.”

Hill and his wife, Bonnie Bale, will present a tribute to India with two Asian elephants, Jewel and Tina.

“Tina does the hind leg stand, the front leg stand, head stand, trunk waltz and a lot of different tricks,” said Hill, who worked in his family's elephant act as a child. “She also does elephant rides before the show, during the show and after the show.”

Spolyar said seeing all four varieties of Bengal tigers in action would be worth the price of admission, but there will be plenty of other interesting and exotic sights to see at the circus.

“People can come out early, too, and walk around and see the animals and talk to us,” he said. “Someone is always around to talk to.”