About This Blog and The Author
About This Blog:
I created this blog after many circus friends and fans requested of me to write about my experiences working with tigers and traveling the world. I thought this would be a great way to stay in touch with fans and friends alike, but also give me the opportunity to provide much needed inside information about animal training and animal husbandry in circuses to counteract the proliferation of misinformation perpetrated by the various animal rights activist organizations.
Besides talking about my life in the circus and the many friendships I formed with people of all walks of life and animals alike I also will write about how tigers are trained and cared for. You can also read about news in the world of animal training and get the inside scoop of my many years of investigating the animal rights movement and their radical political agenda directed at ALL animal husbandry forms. I encourage meaningful communication and discussions on this blog to educate and inform people.
I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it for you.
May all your days be circus days...animal circus that is.
About Othmar Vohringer:
But that is exactly what happened!
It all started when I was child. I was curious to know what makes animals do the things they do, how they communicate with each other and what their behaviour means. Quite early on in my life I observed animals close to home, cats, dogs, the cows in the farmer’s field and the chickens in the yard. I quickly found out that each animal species had their own unique behaviour patterns that triggered a response from other animals. I also learned that some behavioural patterns are common to all animals and are understood by all animals, regardless of species.
After a lot of thinking about how I could work with, and study, animals in a way that goes beyond mere observation I came to the conclusion that the only way to interact actively with animals was to train them. The first time I became aware that this was the way to go occurred to me while watching a performance at Circus Knie in Switzerland. The way Voitech Trubka, at the time one of the most famous animal trainers in the world, interacted with his tigers rang more than just one bell in my head. “That’s it! I want to become an animal trainer too.” I said to myself.
Lucky for me there was a small zoo not too far away from my hometown and as fate would have it the zoo owner was no other than Walter Mauerhofer. To circus and big cats enthusiasts Walter Mauerhofer needs no introduction. To others, not familiar with who’s who in the circus, Mr. Mauerhofer was one of the greatest big cat trainers in Switzerland at the time. At the height of his career he had an act of 45 male and female lions and trained many other cage acts for circuses and parks. At any given time Mauerhofer had between 80 to 150 tigers and lions in his training centre. I enlisted with Walter Mauerhofer, and the consent of my parents, as an intern. Throughout my school years I rode my bicycle every school free day and weekends the 21 Kilometers to the zoo.
I started as a cage cleaner and over the years advanced to animal caretaker to becoming Walter Mauerhofers trainer assistant. I still remember the first day Walter told me to come and visit him in the big cage where he had the big Siberian tiger “Radsha”, my favourite of all the tigers, sitting on a seat prop. I was not afraid of that first encounter with a tiger without bars between us, but I do remember that it left a huge impression on me and that “Radsha” looked almost twice as big. Thinking back at that experience I think it was at that precise moment where I fell in love with tigers.
Working four years with Walter Mauerhofer he felt that I had “what it takes” to go on my own as an animal trainer. He even helped me to get my first job as an animal trainer, in a small Austrian circus that had three young lions. However, before I could take my first “gig” as animal trainer I had to oblige the advice of my parents to learn something “proper”; a trade, “Because you never know, if that animal trainer thing doesn’t work out, then you have something to fall back on.” That advice made sense to me, so I took it up and trained as a professional butcher. That profession turned out to be very helpful in the future when cutting up beef carcasses into tiger sized meal portions.
After the trade exams I phoned the small Austrian circus up and inquired if the job is still available. It was. The previous “lion tamer just left us and the job is yours if you want it.” I took the job and a few months later I worked that small lion act. Before the season was over I left the circus because I found out the hard way why the previous “lion tamer” left. Every time I went to the office to collect my salary I heard; “Sorry business was not so good, come back next week.” But there was another reason I left that show. The day before I left Carl Althoff, owner of the then biggest circus touring Germany at the time, visited that small show. He watched me perform the lions and after the show came to see me. “What are you doing here? He asked then continued; “You’re wasting your time and talent with this outfit. Come to see me in Germany. I have a tiger act for you.” Tigers! That was all I needed to hear and quickly arranged to see that big circus and the tigers I was offered to train.
Again luck knocked at my door. Circus Carl Althoff appeared in a town right across the Swiss border and I just had enough money for a train ticket and visit the show. I met Carl Althoff in his office and left a half hour later with a contract that stated that I am hired as a “tiger trainer.”
This was the break I needed, working in one of Europe’s largest circuses. Working at such a large show was the “door opener” of my career. I started 1973 and regard that year as my official beginning of my animal trainer career. Carl Althoff had in his son Corty Althoff a very talented animal trainer. Corty was at heart an elephant trainer, but also an excellent horse trainer. While working the tiger act and later a lion act too I helped Corty as a training assistant with his elephants and horse. It was Corty who said to me; “As animal trainer it is best to learn how to train many different animals. The day will come when you’re too old to work tigers but you can work horses until the day you die.” Sage advice and I took it to heart.
From here on the rest is history as they say. Word seemed to go around the circus world quickly and I received many offers to work for other circuses. It was not all luck, mostly it was hard work and a commitment to be the best that I can be. I constantly thought of improving acts and do things different from other animal trainers. It was also a strong commitment to the animals put in my charge, making sure they get the best care and treatment possible. That meant I had to be around all day long, the first to get up in the morning and at night when everybody else went home I still was by the animals, making sure everything is taken care of and all the animals are comfortable for the night.
While still with the circus Althoff, now in the position of a chief animal trainer and animal care manager, I met Martin Lacey sen. who, at the time was general manager of the Gerry Cottle’s Circus in England. Martin made me an offer to go to England and train a lion group for him and help his wife Susan to train a tiger act. From that engagement I went to Mary Chipperfield a few years later and that became my most productive time as an animal trainer.
Mary Chipperfield is one of the few European animal trainers that became a legend in her own life time. Whatever animal act came from the Chipperfield stock was of the highest quality. My first year with that outfit was spent in the Chipperfield animal training quarters. I started every day at 6 am training horses, after that it was on to elephants then big cats and exotics. After lunch it started all over again until 6pm or 7pm. Our acts worked in many different shows all over Europe and that also meant “training” people that could perform with the acts we trained. After that initial one year at the training centre I too went on tour with many different shows in England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and France. On these tours across Europe I always had an elephant and tiger act with me and they were often complimented with a third act of some kind of exotic animals, such as camels, giraffes, hippopotamus or any other variety. Again I had work cut out for me but I really enjoyed that time and it gave my career an enormous boost. My name and talent as animal trainer started to spread all over the world.
Ten years into working with Mary Chipperfield I became an offer to work in America with the Hawthorn Corporation. It took us two years of negotiations until I committed to take the offer. This was partially because I really didn’t want to leave Europe as I enjoyed a very good reputation there and my own “fan base”. Going to America meant starting from new and working the way up again. Finally I said “yes, I am coming to America.” This turned out to be a good decision; it seemed my reputation as animal trainer reached America before I did given the amount of mail I received from people longing to see me perform my new tiger act. After one year at the tiger training and breeding facility I took the Hawthorn white tiger act on tour in America. One of our stops was Nashville in Tennessee at the show put on by the late Frank Curry. He had seen my act a few times and insisted that I come to his circus with it. He was a true gentleman of the sort we do not see often these days. Frank was also the person who coined the moniker “Lord of the tigers” that still sticks with me to this day.
In 1998 I made a bit of circus history as the first western animal trainer ever to perform with tigers in the Peoples Republic of China. The success in China was absolutely tremendous. Never before have Chinese seen a single man performing single handed with 15 tigers in the arena, I became practically overnight an instant celebrity. That might sound great to some but for me it just meant extra work and extra time away from my animals and family on television and radio shows or giving interviews. After three years in China our time was up and we went back to America. By now I looked forward to relax a bit and thought after 30 years of constant traveling it might also be a good time to retire from performing with animals. So it came that my Canadian wife suggested we go to Canada and build a permanent home there. I went back to China a year later to teach the Chinese our way of training animals and that only could be done by actually training animals. As a farewell present I trained a tiger act for the Chinese park consisting of 35 white tigers, it’s the largest group I have ever trained, but unfortunately none of my animal training students was able to perform with that act as I did. A Chinese law demands that all big cat acts must be trained and presented by at least two trainers. It just does not make the same impression to the audience when two people stand in the arena.
I have trained many different animals in my long circus career but I became best known for my tiger acts. Although I am retired from performing with animals I still get called upon occasionally to train animals or serve as a consultant. Animal training is not a profession where you just can retire from. The relationship an animal trainer has with animals gets in your blood and stays there for as long as you live.
For more information about my animal training and consultant service contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org