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Alexander Lacey: Big Cat Trainer and Animal Lover

Teri Silver is not only a journalist, she is a longtime lover of the circus. Teri now lives this dream through words and her circus friends.

Alexander Lacey, in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Out of This World (2016-2017)

Alexander Lacey, in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Out of This World (2016-2017)

Circus Life

Every morning, Alexander Lacey brings his majestic felines into a practice ring – transporting six African lions, seven Bengal tigers and one African leopard may seem like a daunting task, but for Lacey, it is just a part of normal, everyday life.

“They like the routine,” he explains, “and it’s good exercise for them.”

Big Cat Trainer and Presenter Alexander Lacey starred in the Blue Unit show of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The now-closed Ringling circus is part of American history and Lacey is back in Europe, performing with his beautiful felines for appreciative audiences. Alexander Lacey keeps himself and his animals moving.

“My animals are well-fed and well-cared for but also, they’re given things to do to stay active and keep from being bored,” says Lacey. And further:

Training is a part of that; when they are in a safe and physically-active environment, animals will live long, healthy lives. My cats are born and bred on the circus and have never been in (or taken from) the wild. As long as you provide them with surroundings where they can eat, sleep, exercise and reproduce in comfort, they will be content.

This wild animal lover is a guy who really knows what he is talking about.

Class is in session

Class is in session

Introducing . . .

Originally from Nottingham, England, Alexander Lacey is the oldest of three sons born to animal trainers Martin and Susan Lacey. The Laceys owned a couple of zoos in Europe when they began working with lions and tigers; the idea was to give the big cats something more to do by increasing daily physical activity and stimulating their natural instincts. Circus life soon followed for Martin, Susan, their children and animal family.

Pretty boy!

Pretty boy!

Animal Attraction

Alexander Lacey’s love for all animals started at a very early age; he was around four years old when he began “helping” his parents. Later, 12-year-old Alex was sent off to boarding school (in Lincolnshire, England), but he would always look forward to holidays and summer vacations when he could come home to the circus:

My parents wanted my brothers and me to have a life outside of the circus, but I always wanted to be home with the animals. I wasn’t even allowed to get into a cage with the cats or begin any kind of training until I’d done at least four or five years of cleaning up after them and taking care of their needs . . . . With big cats, you have to learn their temperament, body language and moods. My parents made it clear that it isn’t just a job – it’s a way of life, and if I was really going to be a part of it, this is where it starts … cleaning up tiger poop. As a kid, I did a lot of that. I still do, actually . . . . Your whole life is really about looking after these animals; 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Alexander was past his 16th birthday when he first entered a cage with his dad and six fully grown male lions.

“The first time I went into that cage I was pretty scared,” admits the now world-famous animal trainer. “At that time, the cats looked really, really big from the outside and being face-to-face was a bit of an eye-opener for me. But here I am,” Lacey said smiling. “It’s where I always hope to be, no matter where the road takes me.”

Alexander Lacey with King (left) and Masai

Alexander Lacey with King (left) and Masai

Lacey's Legacy

At age 17, Alexander Lacey began presenting wild animals at his father’s circus. It was several years later when he developed his own Big Cat act; touring with a number of shows in Europe (Italy, France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands). Lacey also worked in Germany for Circus Krone – where his brother, Martin Lacey Jr., currently presents lions and tigers. (Another brother, Richard, opted for a vocation “outside of the circus.”)

In Europe, Alexander was honored as “Best of the Best” at the Circus Festival in Monte Carlo. He received the Chapiteau de Crystal award in France and Silver Clown award in Monaco. Although producers at Ringling Bros. discovered Alexander Lacey’s lion and tiger act in 2003, it was many years after that when the big cat trainer was contractually free to join the Greatest Show on Earth.©

All of the Lacey animals are born on the circus; the entire family has bred 11 generations of lions and nine generations of tigers – around 500 animals during the last five decades. The big cats working together in Alexander’s troupe are from several generations:

They are well-loved from the time they first open their eyes to the time they close them for the last time. My cats are my family . . . my life . . . and I can’t imagine anything else. I am very lucky because I get to do my hobby and every day is different. The big cats only have one handler and one trainer; that’s what we’ve always done. When I bring these animals to the public, it is very important to me that people see the friendship and bond between us. But the presentation is not about me. I show the animals.

Lions and tigers, oh my!

Lions and tigers, oh my!

The Lacey Menagerie

  • As of this writing, the entire Lacey clan has bred 11 generations of lions and nine generations of tigers. When breeding, the family is careful to keep bloodlines separate so that all animals remain true to their lineage. The menagerie is made up of a very diverse gene pool – eight bloodlines of lions and five bloodlines of tigers.
  • Alexander Lacey employs several full-time workers to help him care for his lions, tigers and leopard. With Ringing, Alex's mother (Susan Lacey) was part of the crew and his wife (Katie) cared for, trained and presented barnyard domestics for the Laceys’ mixed animal act. Currently, Katie guides the big cats through the tunnel into the circus ring. During the show, she watches them for aggressive behavior.
  • A veterinarian is always on call.
  • The felines are usually fed 6 or 7 hours before a performance so that the food is well-digested.
  • Each big cat eats about 8 to 16 pounds of high-quality beef or chicken daily; their diets alternate with days of the week. (The cost is around $20,000 USD a month!) When on tour, the food is from local resources. The animals receive water throughout the day.
  • The cats are served warm milk and liver oil at night.
  • The big cats are NOT declawed; they do NOT have any teeth removed.
  • All felines have their own characteristics, behaviors, body types and phrases (easily recognizable by their trainer). When he is within earshot, Alexander Lacey knows which cats are talking by the sounds of their rumbles and growls.
  • Lions and tigers have markings on the backs of their ears; lions’ ear markings are black, tigers’ ear markings are white. Similar to housecats, lions and tigers hold their ears and tails in different positions to communicate with each other (and their trainer).
  • Training begins at around 8 months old. Training is based on repetition, reward and patience.
  • Alexander Lacey communicates with the cats in English and German.
  • When performing, the big cats display their various talents by doing the kinds of things they like and are good at; some love to run and jump but others are more passive.
  • All the cats are given the opportunity to reproduce. In the performance, cubs work alongside their parents and slowly take over the routine.
  • The Laceys’ big cats typically live into their early-to-mid 20s; the average life span for a lion in the wild is about 12 years for a male and somewhat older for females.
Alexander Lacey and friends

Alexander Lacey and friends

The Felines

Currently, there are six lions, seven tigers and one leopard in Alexander Lacey’s menagerie. They are:

  • Male lions: Masai and King
  • Female lions: Amber, Goldie, Mali and Princess
  • Male tigers: Kashmere, Max, Prince and Czar
  • Female tigers: Bella, India (II) and Onyx
  • Leopard: Mogli.

The Lacey family's big cat menagerie has included: Stella and Kiara (lionesses); Masai I, II and III (lions); Suzy,Tara, Mariah and India (I) (tigresses). New cubs are often named after their predecessors.

750-pound Masai weighed only one pound when he was born. Alexander bottle-fed the young lion because the cub's mother could not produce enough milk. At some point, Masai grew too big to live inside the Lacey home.

750-pound Masai weighed only one pound when he was born. Alexander bottle-fed the young lion because the cub's mother could not produce enough milk. At some point, Masai grew too big to live inside the Lacey home.

Questions and Answers With Alexander Lacey

People often ask …

  • Are the animals fed a lot so that they won’t attack the trainer during a show?

“The cats are fed six or seven hours before show time so they can properly digest their meals, but they may get a treat during performances and training sessions. If these animals want to attack, it wouldn’t be because they are hungry but because they want to be ‘the boss.’ Feeding them too close to show time just tires them out,” says Lacey.

  • How long does it take to train a lion or tiger?

The time factor varies, depending on the individual animal. “We have to be very observant because every cat has his or her own quirks and personality,” notes Lacey. “It’s not about what I want; it’s always about them. Each animal is good at different things so it takes some time to figure out what he or she likes to do and is good at. Once I know what to expect, I go from there.”

  • Any severe injuries?

The exotic animal trainer has never been seriously hurt; having received only minor injuries (some from feeding young tiger cubs with pinpoint sharp claws). “I do get scratched up a bit, mostly on my hands. But I spend a lot of time with my cats so I know what kind of mood they’re in,” says Lacey. “If any particular animal isn’t in the mood to work or play, then we’ll leave him be. Avoiding bad situations is the key,” he added.

  • So, then, do the animals show desire for personal space?

Yes, lions and tigers do have good days and bad days, says Lacey. Because he spends a lot of time with these animals, he knows their moods and behaviors.

“Lions are safer that way because if they are in a ‘bad mood,’ they let me know early in the day. Tigers are tricky in that they can turn the tide within a few minutes. With Ringling, we did about 500 shows a year; if a tiger or lion wants a day off, then so be it. Our animals are never forced to perform when they don’t want to … the number of cats in any particular show varies from day to day.”

Alexander Lacey can tell when a particular feline does not want to be in the public eye.

“I am with my cats all the time and because of that, I know their body language. They don’t learn any ‘bad’ habits and I can get close to most of them — kiss and cuddle — but some really do not want that. If that’s the way it is, then, that’s the way it is.”

  • But who is the real boss here?

The big cats do not realize they can seriously harm their trainer because they have never been asked to do anything that they absolutely do not want to do.

For example, when 750-pound-Masai (a fully grown male lion that, as a cub, was bottle-fed by Lacey) stretches out his large body on top of the trainer, Alexander knows that he is perfectly safe.

“Masai doesn’t realize that he is actually bigger than I am,” notes Alex. “Just don’t ask a lion or tiger to do what you don’t think he or she will want to do. The minute you come to blows, they will win every time. Masai and the others don’t realize they can hurt me because they’ve never been given the opportunity.”

Although Alexander Lacey is safe when he goes into the big cat enclosures (after all, he is the top cat in their eyes), no one else can get into a cage with the animals.

“I spend a lot of time with my cats; they know me and I know them. They respect my authority because they think I am the boss. But if you or anyone else were to go into that pen without me along side, they would see you off,” he says warningly. “That could mean ripping you to shreds or worse.”

  • What is the best part of your day?

“Every day is different; from breeding to training to performing,” says Lacey. “Training the animals is very rewarding for me, especially when the younger cats start to understand the language I’m teaching them. To take a cat that doesn’t really understand what is expected of him, or the language you’re trying to teach, and then to see the changes (when he or she is starting to comprehend) is wonderful. What I hope is that the public can see how smart these animals are and how well we work together. The cats trust me but it’s not about me … it is always about them. What’s important is that people can see the friendship I have with the animals, what great condition they are in and how good they look. I have a lot of pride in my cats.”

Training the Big Cats

Performance routines are based on the cats’ natural behaviors — rolling over, sitting up, running and jumping. Practice time can be up to two hours every morning for the “regulars” and additional sessions, when needed, for younger cats that are learning this new language. The “serious” business of training lions and tigers begins when the cubs are about 8 months old (before that age, says Alexander Lacey, the kittens just want to play).

When teaching the class,  Alexander Lacey holds two guiders that help him to communicate with the big cats.

When teaching the class, Alexander Lacey holds two guiders that help him to communicate with the big cats.

The Guiders

Through a process of repetition and reward, Lacey utilizes guiders (thin rods) to teach the animals a type of sign language so that they can interact with him. (The guiders are of various sizes but when working with one animal at a time, Lacey often uses those that are about four feet long). The trainer places raw meat on the tip of the guider in his left hand and then moves it in different directions; the cats follow the treat as if it were a carrot on a stick.

“The idea is to reward the cats’ understanding of what they are being asked to do,” says Alex. “We teach them to follow the meat on the guider so they can learn how we communicate.”

In the beginning of the training process, it is important for the animals to learn that they should never be afraid of the guiders — which are there to communicate and nothing else.

“I want my animals to be comfortable and not be afraid in any way,” says Alexander Lacey. “Trust is an important factor, here. They must respect me but not be scared, which are two different things.”

Training involves speech, movement, sounds and touch. When a lion or tiger receives a reward from the instrument in his left hand, Alexander strokes the animal’s head, back and shoulders with the guider he holds in his right hand.

“Touching them with the guiders allows me to communicate — especially with those who don’t want to be petted or cuddled (unless they are being groomed). With the guiders, the animals learn there is nothing to be scared of.”

The lionesses always have something to say

The lionesses always have something to say

The Language

In Alexander Lacey’s big cat menagerie, the lions and tigers that have fully grasped this special language understand what the trainer is asking them to do. For example, when he taps ‘Max’ (tiger) on the shoulder, it means to “move forward.” When Alexander wants the big cat to:

  • Come toward him – face to face, Lacey will hold the guiders straight in front. Then, when he walks backwards, the tiger will walk forward.
  • Stop – the trainer holds guiders straight up.
  • Sit – a soft touch on the butt.
  • Lay – Alex places the guiders angled point down in front of him.
  • Sit up – a slight rub on both ears.
Sit, tiger, sit

Sit, tiger, sit


The guiders also help to keep the animals’ focus directly on their trainer – especially during the show when the cats can become distracted by lights, music and the audience. Lacey lightly touches the lions and tigers on their backs or shoulders to remind them to pay attention to him.

When his big cats are notably comfortable with the short guiders, Alexander Lacey teaches them to respond to longer rods (with flexible cords attached); these allow him to address many animals at one time.

“It’s easier to be in one place and not have to run from one side of the ring to the other,” says Lacey. “I touch the animals with the guiders but the cats don’t shy away from them or get nervous.”

From the tone of his voice to the touch of his hands, Big Cat Trainer and Presenter Alexander Lacey’s affection and devotion to his animals comes through, and, as such, they do not fear him or his training methods.

“It is very important that my cats are not afraid of me or the guiders,” Lacey says again. “They must respect me but they mustn’t be scared. They accept me, but we can never forget that they are wild animals."

Dancing with Max and Kashmere.   Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends (2014-2016)

Dancing with Max and Kashmere. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends (2014-2016)

Performance Time

Currently, Alexander Lacey has 13 lions and tigers and one leopard in his menagerie but not all of them participate in each show. Every day, the cats are assessed for physical and mental wellness and, Lacey maintains, no animal is ever pushed to perform.

“Remember, you cannot make an animal do what he or she does not want to do.”

Younger felines in training may not be ready to make their public debut. Older animals may be retired from show business but still exercise daily in practice sessions.

The number of big cats appearing in each show may vary but when it comes to performing, every lion and tiger has a unique personality; their tricks are things they like to do – running, jumping, sitting and even standing upward and walking on back legs.

“The other thing to look at,” says the trainer, “is each animal’s own body mass.” And further:

For example, the big male lion, Masai, weighs 750 pounds. He’s not going to be jumping around too much, and I would never expect him to jump distances. But the females … the lionesses … can and like to jump. They are more agile, athletic and much lighter. The female tigers like to jump too – they have strong legs and backs. A couple of the male tigers (Max and Kashmere) are not interested in jumping so they stand and look pretty while the lionesses jump over them.

Although elements of the big cat presentation are well-rehearsed, no performance is — or can ever be — exactly alike. As an experienced showman, Alexander Lacey knows how to engage the audience while playing up the spirited nature of his animals.

“Are you scared?”

The charismatic big cat presenter poses this question to circus-goers after a snarling lioness lunges toward him, casting a large, sharp claw in his direction.

“No? Well, then, come here.”

Not to worry, it’s all part of the act – well, mostly because, after all, they are wild animals.

The female lions (Amber, Goldie, Mali and Princess) can become quite aggressive, says Lacey, and they certainly do keep him on his toes. “The lionesses like to make a lot of noise. It’s within their personalities and gives the audience a look at their intrinsic nature.”

But the ladies also bring their playful antics to the arena:

Goldie is the clown of the group. She’s mischievous — always messing around and sometimes during performances, she wants me to rub her tummy before she’ll leave the ring. Mali is a bit more aggressive and Princess has her own way of reminding me that she wants to be the center of attention. The lionesses actually get a little jealous at times.

Similar to the lionesses, the lady tigers have their own unique temperaments and characteristics. Bella, for example, is an affectionate beauty that likes to kiss and cuddle. Onyx is a sweet girl and India can be a bit shy.

Each female lion and tiger has her own special relationship with "Top Cat" Alexander Lacey.

Kisses from Bella

Kisses from Bella

Circus Days With Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey

Alexander Lacey and his big cats performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus during three of its touring shows; Dragons, Legends and Out Of This World. In a typically-scheduled week, the circus gave nearly a dozen shows -- most of them from Thursday through Sunday.

For Alexander Lacey, his family, assistants and animal menagerie, a “standard” Friday (with only one evening show) looked like this:

6:00-615 a.m.: Alex awakens to the sounds of his big cats waking up, too; they are housed near his own RV. The Recreational Vehicle that Alexander Lacey and his lovely wife Katie call their home-on-the-road is always stationed within the animal compound at the arena. By 6:30, Lacey is out the door.

7:00 a.m.: The cats, anticipating their normal routine, are ready to get the day started as the animal crew arrives to set up the arena for practice. Lacey watches his felines carefully to see if they are displaying their usual characteristics and behaviors. By about 7:45 a.m., Alex and his assistants guide the animals into mobile transports and pull them by tractor into the arena. The cats are always ready to go!

8:00 a.m.: Alexander Lacey may share some one-on-one time with Mogli, a beautiful African leopard that is trained to walk on a short leash. Mogli enjoys giving the trainer hugs and kisses, as well has stretching across his friend’s shoulders. During show time, the leopard would sit with Alex on a mobile float that encircled the arena.

The crew brings all of the animals into the ring for exercise and rehearsal as Alexander helps the younger tigers and lions (that are not yet in the show) get used to being in the arena and hearing his voice over the microphone. The “kids” may spend time with other cats or in the ring with their own parents. (If there aren’t any circus performances scheduled, Lacey varies his training times with the younger animals). Now let the rehearsal begin! Routines are important to all cats; big and small (even a housecat). The whole practice session can take from one to two hours.

9:45 a.m.: The big cats are transported back to the animal compound; breakfast is prepared and served. The meal consists of Angus beef or chicken (depending on the day). Each animal gets a beef (or chicken) heart or liver; the male lions get fish oil to enhance their beautiful manes. (All of the animals are given fish oil and vitamin supplements). While the cats are eating -- they are fed once a day but receive meat rewards during training and show time -- Alex and his crew spread clean wood shavings in the yards for the animals to sleep and play. Each cat gets a bowl of warm milk at night.

10:45 a.m.: The felines go to the yard to play or sleep. Like housecats, lions and tigers sleep most of the day; up to 22 hours. They might choose to play with balls, branches, each other, or take a dip in their “swimming pools.”

11:00 a.m.: Activities vary; Alexander Lacey rarely sat still! Perhaps he would meet with Ringling officials or sit in on Skype conference calls; the photogenic animal trainer did a lot of media interviews for this circus. While the cats play and sleep, Lacey takes care of personal business like doing laundry, cleaning his RV or taking a shower (with tufts of cat fur and meat bits all over them, the crew surely does need time for personal grooming!). Although at least one crew member is always on duty, Alexander Lacey checks on his big cats throughout the day.

Alexander Lacey brushes Masai every day.

Alexander Lacey brushes Masai every day.

1:00 or 2:00 p.m.; Just about every day, Alex spends a couple of hours in the animal compound; the felines want a little one-on-one attention. Some like to nuzzle and “chuff,” which is a sound they make to talk to their friend and each other. (Lions and tigers also communicate with their tails and ear positions).

A couple of hours before show time, Alexander Lacey would take a strong brush to (male lion) Masai’s thick, lustrous mane. If the doors were open to the public, circus-goers got to see this special bonding moment between the King of Beasts and his trainer. Masai doesn’t care much about the crowds but he surely does love Alex!

4:45-5:15 p.m.: Often, before the show, the local media wanted to talk circus. When the TV news reporter and camera crew were brought to the Big Cat area, Alexander Lacey and his beautiful animals said hello to the public. Max is ready! At the close of the interview, Lacey gives the reporter a stick with a small piece of meat on it as an offering for the tiger. On cue, the big cat stretches out to grab the treat.

5:30 p.m.: Alexander would return to his RV for a quick meal and then head to the dressing room where his costumes were ready and waiting. The first outfit was to wear during the pre-show; audience members were granted access to the arena floor (an hour before start time) for autographs and pictures with the performers. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show production manager kept everything running on a strict time schedule.

6:22 p.m.: Alex met with audience members on the arena floor to answer questions about the animals. When he finished, it was time to get back to the dressing room to change costumes.

Tigers Max and Kashmere look pretty  while  the lionesses jump over them. Amber, Mali, Princess and Goldie love to jump and play!

Tigers Max and Kashmere look pretty while the lionesses jump over them. Amber, Mali, Princess and Goldie love to jump and play!

7:00 p.m.: Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages show time! Upon hearing the live music, Lacey would jump on his float to join the parade. Mogli the leopard was always ready and waiting for his turn in the spotlight.

7:10 p.m.: Time for another quick costume change while crew members transported the animals into the arena. When the cats hear their music; they know it’s time to enter the ring.

7:20 p.m.: In darkness, the round screen enclosure is set up in the middle of the ring; audiences are watching clowns or some other attraction on the opposite end of the arena floor. The transports are at the cage entrance; the cats enter the ring one by one and head to their pedestals.

Everything is ready! The house lights go dark, and then the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ringmaster made the announcement … "Here he is … ALEXANDER LACEY!!!!!"

No matter what show Alexander Lacey is with, his tigers and lions are in perfect formation for the start of their (roughly) 12-minute performance when the houselights are turned up.

The Big Cat performance is … Exciting! Amazing! Breathtaking!

7:45 p.m.: After the lions and tigers take their final bows of the evening (and Masai has his own special moment in the glittering spotlight), they all return to the transport and are brought back to the animal compound. Each feline receives a bowl of warm milk. Nighty Night happy kitties!


In the second half of this particular Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey production, Out Of This World, circus-goers enjoyed a mixed animal presentation with Katie and Alexander Lacey. The act had an array of barnyard animals; goats, llamas, alpacas, small donkeys, and even a kangaroo.

8:40 p.m.: The Cossack Riders finished their spectacular horse acrobatic performance before Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey cast members assembled for the show’s finale.

Alexander Lacey and leopard friend, Mogli.  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends (2014-2016).

Alexander Lacey and leopard friend, Mogli. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends (2014-2016).

Show Ending

8:55 p.m.: In the final parade for most shows, Alexander Lacey and his beautiful leopard took one more ride together around the arena. (A Cat Crew assistant walked along side; handing Alex bits of meat for Mogli to snack on). When the float came to a stop in the middle of the arena, Mogli often jumped up to put his big paws around Alexander’s neck for a leopard-size hug.

9:15 p.m.: When the show ended, Lacey went back to the dressing room to change out of his costume.

And then it was time to relax -- with the cats sleeping, the circus settled down for the evening. Alexander, Katie and their crew members would make it an early night too, especially if there were three shows scheduled for the following day.

Amber, Mali, Princess and Goldie say goodnight!

Amber, Mali, Princess and Goldie say goodnight!

Katie & the Fuzzies

Katie & the Fuzzies

The Mixed Animal Act

In 2015, Alexander and Katie Lacey began training sessions for what the circus calls the fuzzies; “barnyard” animals that exhibited their whimsical talents in the second half of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey (Blue Unit) show. Llamas! Donkeys! Goats! Alpacas! And a kangaroo or two …

Katie Azzario-Lacey comes from long line of circus artists, clowns and acrobats; for many years she performed a hand-balancing act in Europe with her sister, Quincy (The Azzario Sisters). When joining her husband in America, Katie took on the task of animal caregiver and trainer, although, she says, it wasn’t really a ‘task’ at all.

“It’s exciting when you work with animals, it’s really about them. You have to gain their trust and when that happens, it is so rewarding. It’s an amazing lifestyle, even though there are some sacrifices. But it was great for me to be able to work with my husband and our ‘fuzzies,’ I hope to do that again, sometime soon!”

The Blue and Red units of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus kept licensed veterinarians on staff (and local doctors on call in every city visited); all circus animals were thoroughly examined and up-to-date on vaccinations. Caretakers continuously fed, watered and cleaned up after these barnyard animals -- the enclosures, stables, stalls and pens received fresh bedding several times throughout the day. Shortly after the final circus performance in upstate New York, the fuzzies were sent to their new homes.

Mixed animal act with Katie and Alexander Lacey: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Out of This World. (2016-2017)

Mixed animal act with Katie and Alexander Lacey: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Out of This World. (2016-2017)

Conservation and Education

Keeping wild cats and other animals in captive environments brings about various opinions, acknowledges Alexander Lacey. However, whether at a zoo or in a circus, he believes people should see these animals up close:

That’s the way we all connect to anything emotionally; by experiencing the matter first hand. The beauty of these big cats surely does give us that but more so, learning all we can about all animals … lions and tigers included … isn’t just what we read in books – it’s how they affect us on a personal level.

People don’t really care about something unless they’ve truly experienced it. Conservation efforts only work when people have a relationship of some sort – something that pushes them to get involved by making a donation or writing a letter. I can step into a confined structure with animals that know me; most people cannot do that. But they can see what kind of relationship I have with my cats and how we love and respect each other. If that helps them to ask questions and maybe seek more information, then we’ve done a lot more than merely provided a few minutes of entertainment.

Circuses are often criticized for using animals for entertainment purposes. Negative stories about animal treatment in zoos and circuses may always be in circulation – whether or not the information is accurately reported – but the issue is not a one-size-fits-all application to every situation. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, for example, had strict rules for their presenters and caretakers of exotic and domestic animals. The show took these words very seriously:

It is the policy of Ringling Bros. to maintain the highest quality of animal care and husbandry for both Ringling-owned and all contract presentations in which animals are involved. Ringling Bros. policy strictly prohibits the mistreatment of any animal.

Alexander Lacey shares his knowledge about lions and tigers to students of all ages.

Alexander Lacey shares his knowledge about lions and tigers to students of all ages.

Continuing Efforts

Although the circus is now closed, conservationists at Feld Entertainment (the company that owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey) are continuing their efforts toward saving endangered species. The company says that, with the onset of increasing human populations, the world’s natural habitats for tigers are dwindling; down by 93 percent. Throughout the world and stemming from India to Russia, there are fewer than 4,000 wild-bred tigers that actually live in their natural habitats. The number of lions (in African countries) is also decreasing – agriculture and community development attracts people to settle in these lands. Leopards are threatened too; they are targeted by hunters for their stunningly beautiful fur.

An avid animal lover, Alexander Lacey works with schools, community leaders and conservation groups to educate the public about the shrinking numbers of all endangered species. Although his cats have all been born on the circus (and have never lived in the wild), Lacey is worried that there could sometime soon come a day when the only big cats left in existence are those which live among human beings.

Tiger snuggles

Tiger snuggles

Opinion vs. Fact: Is There a Difference?

Opinions and factual research conclusions do vary and it is true; one cannot convince people to change their minds – no matter how much evidence is presented on either side. But, arguably, teaching and caring for innately wild animals in captivity is not much different from training range-roaming horses to be ridden or raced.

Some scientists say that animal taming is part of the overall evolutionary process (such as bringing house cats indoors to live on canned or dry food instead of outside where they would more naturally hunt rabbits and mice). One thing to note, says Alexander Lacey, is that lions and tigers (and leopards) can be trained but not tamed.

Are animals in captive environments actually happy? What is ‘happy’ to a tiger or lion? As intelligent as creatures are, gauging their emotions on a human scale is not all that easy to do – unless you are Dr. Doolittle, the fictional character (from author Hugh Lofting) who could “talk to the animals.” The feeling of ‘happiness’ is very subjective to the individual experience.

Studies show that animals thriving in captivity live longer, receive better care when humans lend a hand and are less stressed when they don’t have to protect themselves from becoming prey.

Alexander Lacey insists that his animals are content; they’re like spoiled kids — part of the family. The big cats are well-cared for, healthy and loved. Very much loved.

“It’s amazing how intelligent and inspiring these animals are. Their unique personalities are incredible. To train these beautiful animals is the most rewarding thing and no matter where I am, I hope to do so for many years to come. I love what I do and I love my cats even more.”

Alexander Lacey plays with his big cats during this performance.  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends (2014-2016)

Alexander Lacey plays with his big cats during this performance. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends (2014-2016)

Hello, Europe!

Alexander Lacey returned to Europe in the fall of 2017. He brought his big cat show to circuses in France and Germany.

"We had many successful years in Germany before coming to America," says Alex. "Our fans are happy to have us back."

Currently, Lacey is entertaining audiences with Zirkus Charles Knie. In addition to assisting Alex with the big cats, Katie Azzario-Lacey sings in the show. The Laceys recently welcomed their first child to the world (a boy). Alex also has a teenage daughter.

"We are all very happy," says Katie.

And, as the late, great Jack Ryan (Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey publicist) would say ...

"May all your days be circus days."

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Teri Silver