What’s it like to put your head in a lion’s mouth?
Clayton Rosaire knows.
As a member of an animal-oriented circus family, he grew up with animals and wasn’t afraid of them.
Now Rosaire runs his family’s Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, FL. The tourist attraction is the home of 40 tigers and lions and 100 other animals, including bears and chimps.
The habitat was founded in 1987 by Kay Rosaire, Clayton’s mother and a renowned animal trainer. She taught him how to handle large felines.
His shows at the habitat recall the golden age of the circus that arrived in Sarasota in 1927 when the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus moved here.
The nonprofit Big Cat Habitat is open year-around from 12 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. It is located on the eastern edge of Sarasota near Interstate Highway 75. The habitat focuses on rescuing and caring for exotic animals with the focus on big cats. It stresses the importance of wildlife preservation.
“Everything the animals do in the shows is a natural behavior,” Rosaria says. “We just teach them to do it in sequence. We reinforce their actions with praise and treats. They also respond to applause.”
Rosaire decided to be an animal trainer when he was 16 and then became the world’s youngest to work with tigers and lions. Today he is the habitat’s vice president, CEO and big cat trainer.
Any danger involved?
“Cat’s can get spooked,” he says. “Anyone who works with them may get scratched. That’s not the animal’s fault. It’s human error. A big part of the job is watching and reading the animal — their posture, the flick of a tail. That might be a sign to give it a day off.”…
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