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Animal trainers

Netherlands peter Offline
Expert & Researcher
( This post was last modified: 03-25-2019, 11:39 PM by peter )

(03-25-2019, 08:31 AM)paul cooper Wrote:
(12-10-2015, 11:50 AM)peter Wrote: The trainers I interviewed, however, agreed that attacks of tigers usually are not the result of impulses. Many, if not all, are planned. This is the reason they often are very reluctant to abandon an attack. Tigers who attack other animals often do so because they really dislike them. This observation, oddly enough, was confirmed by Beatty when he wrote that the fued between male tigers 'Prince' and 'Frisco' developed into " ... the bitterest fued between two animals I can recall ... " (pp. 220).

Hey peter, Beatty has made the same observation another time (in one of his books, Jungle Performers). He talked about two tigers, Ganges and Rajah, who hated each other so much that for 5 years they constantly wanted to kill each other and didnt fight any other animals - beatty says that they were going to kill each other and made sure they are kept far apart:

"Some raging feuds between animals have endured unbroken for years. Two of my toughest tigers, Ganges and Rajah, feuded from 1936 and 1941, hating each other so viciously that they had no time left to fight other animals, except on rare occasions. Realizing that an uninterrupted battle between might well result in death for one, I devised numerous ways to keep them apart"

*This image is copyright of its original author

Yes, fueds seem to be typical for both captive and wild tigers. In this respect, lions seem to be different. In order to find out a bit more about the essentials of lions and tigers, one needs to contact experienced trainers. Kathlee could be a good start. She's not only a former trainer, but also a member and interested in interaction. Furthermore, she probably talked lion with other experienced trainers.

Another way to find good information is to read. Although the internet has a few disadvantages, you can find a lot of articles on big cats written by keepers, handlers, trainers, vets and researchers. As they're often based on years of experience or research, most of them are very informative. If you want to know about the behavior of captive big cats and bears, my advice is to start reading. If you print anything you find and study it, the result will be specific knowledge. Trainers, on the other hand, are specialists in case-studies. If a trainer senses you really tried to get to a bit of knowledge, chances are he or she will be interested in a chat.


Two decades ago, I often visited a big cat facility not too far away from Amsterdam. These visits often compared to work. I measured and weighed quite a few big cats, assisted vets and wrote a number of papers on what I found over the years. I also co-headed a number of projects. One of them was the so-called 'lion project'.

The aim of the owner of the facility was to rewild lions. He invested in a private reserve and asked me to report on the differences between wild and captive lions. He also asked me how it could be done. This was well before rahabilitation projects were started. In the two years I studied lions, I talked to hunters, tour organizers, wildlife biologists, investors, handlers, trainers, trainers, film makers, directors of training facilities and skull specialists and organized countless meetings.

Here's what I learned.


Lions prides are not run by male coalitions, but related females. As a result of social life, competition is engrained in the soul of all wild lions. Yes, I think they have a soul. Emotions are expressions of the soul. In animals, emotions are vital. They affect behavior more than all other factors combined. Everyone with personal experience told me that animals are more involved in emotions than, say, humans. They know about deep feeling. 

In the department of emotions, male lions could top the table. More than other big cats, they are subject to sudden, often violent, mood changes. As a rule, they immediately respond with everything they have. For a male lion, any confrontation resulting from a sudden change of mood can develop into a now-or-never. When one male starts, others often quickly follow.   

In social predators like lions, expression and aggression are important. When two males clash, there's always a fight. Although brief in most cases, there will be battle and in a battle courage and power count. This is why it isn't easy to train acts that have a number of male lions. Lion trainers told me it's not enough to love them. Violence is part of life.  

In a mixed act that has more than one male lion, problems never are far away. In order to prevent a brawl that can get out of hand, tigers and bears often try to get out of harm's way. The reason is a different upbringing. Male lions do now-or-never, whereas solitary predators often solve problems in a different way. In tigers, moods are less important than in llions. The trainers I saw told me they are more composed and less aggressive. Bears, although not as volatile as male lions, are moodier than tigers. Furthermore, they're more difficult to read.

In spite of the disadvantages, some trainers prefer working with lions. They know things can get rough, but lions generally are more predictable than tigers or bears. If you know how to deal with violence, it can be a rewarding job. Some individuals never accept humans. In most cases, trainers quickly act in that they are removed.


While male lions are prepared to engage anything no matter what, tigers solve problems in a different way. The main reason is upbringing in that tigers were not raised in family groups with cubs of different ages competing for food most of the time. When males disperse, they quickly need to learn about competition and consequences. The best method is to avoid larger tigers. Adult males never forget this lesson. No matter how large, they avoid publicity of any kind whenever possible.

In heavily-armed solitary big cats, a confrontation can result in injury or death. For this reason, tigers developed a lot of rituals to prevent a serious fight. When a confrontation can't be prevented, they don't go for an all-deciding all-out immediately. They watch and test their opponents all the time. Psychological warfare. When this doesn't have the intended effect, the intensity of what can develop into a fued grows over time. Although most conflicts are solved with 'appropiate violence', male tigers perish more often in territorial fights than male lions in Africa.

As they know about violence, male tigers tend to be much more evasive than male lions. In lion coalitions, all-out's between individuals are few and far between. It isn't about individuals, but coalitions. Wars are decided at the level of coalitions.

In male tigers, war is always between individuals. As size often is deciding in intra-specific conflict, large individuals come out on top more often than small individuals. Over time, this, all other factors equal, will result in an increase in size. In Indian tigers, the difference between captive and wild male tigers is more outspoken than in lions. Captive males average about 405 pounds (183,71 kg.), whereas adult wild males captured in the last three decades averaged close to 500 pounds (226,8 kg.). In Nepal and northern India, the average seems to be even over that mark.  


Big cats are a result of many thousands of years of evolution. Although less able than their wild relatives, captive big cats are not very different from them. Male lions still boss each other and everything else whenever possible, whereas tigers try to stay out of harm's way. Tigers know elusiveness pays. Apart from the occasional exception, there are no bold wild male tigers. Those who forget the lesson learned when young often end up like Amur tiger 'Uporny', who was found face down in the snow some years ago. There were no signs of a fight, meaning he had been ambushed and executed. Uporny most probably entered the hunting estate of another male tiger and didn't watch his back. 

Was 'Uporny' exceptional? Don't think so. In Varty's place, male tiger 'Corbett' barely excaped death twice. He later killed his opponents when they didn't pay attention. In male tigers, it pays to be alert and well-informed all the time. Wild male lions seem more relaxed than tigers, but they know the situation can change any moment. The difference between long-distance sleeping and a sudden fight can be a few seconds only. It has an effect on character in the long run.   


Notice I still didn't say one word about a serious fight between a male lion and a male tiger of equal size and age. Good information about big cats is as interesting as good information about clashes, if not more so. I assume it's clear why it pays to be elusive and evasive when you're a male tiger? And why it pays to have a now-or-never attitude when you're a male lion? I also assume that everyone posting about lions and tigers now knows about the difference between a brief confrontation and a real fight? Very good. 

As for those with very outspoken opinions on lions, tigers and the outcome of figfhts between males of equal size and age. Any idea why those involved in organising fights continued the habit for centuries? If things were as clear as many think, why would anyone back then have been prepared to bet on the outcome? And why is it that trainers writing books about their experience disagree on lions and tigers all the time? Too close to call, perhaps?


This thread was created for trainers. There is a lot of information out there. Much more interesting than repeating all well-known views time and again. Why don't you go find some of these books? In the end, it is about a few things that could prove to be important. In order to be able to do that, good info is needed. As much as possible.

My advice is to focus on old books. Today is the day of diplomacy, meaning you'll be kept in the dark. A century ago, attitudes were different. When you find something interest, I'll post an interview with the director of a facility where big cats and bears were trained to perform. He was involved in animals from day one.
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Finland Shadow Offline

This is a short glimpse to one place, where animals are kept in quite nice looking conditions and also trained to perform in movies. That guy should find some time for dates, I think Wink

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