Since Tiger King is such a cultural phenomena I thought it might be interesting to see if anyone has any questions about that particular profession from a less sensationalistic viewpoint.

Over the last few years I’ve run an off-leash dog walking company in California, so I’m currently mostly removed from exotic animal training.

From 2005-2007 I attended the Exotic Animal Training and Management program at Moorpark College. That particular school is one of a kind, and graduates work everywhere from zoos, aquariums, hollywood, guide dogs for the blind, etc.

I worked at a Six Flags theme park doing an (IAAPA) award winning free contact tiger show from 2007-2010. The park discontinued our show and retired our cats to their safari park at the end of 2010.

I don’t know any of the players in the Netflix doc personally, but have known about Carole Baskin and ‘Doc’ Antle for years.

I almost posted this last week and then saw someone who was on that show posted and figured it wasn't a good time. Questions about working with tigers, exotic animals, in a theme park, etc will be most up my alley, but if you want to ask me about the goings on on Tiger King, please give me specifics as I am not well versed on it.

Here are numerous photos.

And here is a video showing off the variety of experiences at that spectacular job (from MC'ing the show to training athletic and husbandry behaviors, to interaction with some happy big cats).

Comments: 162 • Responses: 67  • Date: 

GreenStrong41 karma

Is a "professional tiger trainer" a person who trains tigers, or are you a tiger who trains professionals? If it is the latter, are you concerned about coronavirus?

TigNewton20 karma

Paid tiger trainer. I guess I made that distinction because from what I understand of Tiger King, there are a lot of volunteers (people who aren't paid, and who often had no training or educational background).

Right now I run my own dog walking company. We're careful but I'm concerned about coronavirus like everybody.

leijt22 karma

TigNewton6 karma

VBIED37 karma

I noticed that you have not yet achieved the mullet and mustache. How long before this becomes a reality for you?

TigNewton38 karma

Goddamned Tiger King.

insaneintheblain2 karma

Do you wear tiger skin?

TigNewton1 karma

No?

DrJawn23 karma

Isn't captivity basically torture for an animal that has a huge territory in the wild?

TigNewton82 karma

The thing about most animals in captivity is that they were born there, their parents were born there, and their parents parents were born there. Tigers specifically do great in good captive situations. They have good nutrition, veterinary care, daily behavioral enrichment and exercise.

In the wild they deal with poaching, disease, habitat loss. Their territory is often so segmented they can't find mates. They're so close to human settlements where one mistake can mean they're killed as a public nuisance. There are only 3000-4000 tigers left in the wild for all of those reasons, and there isn't much positive to say about the struggles they face out there.

The tigers I worked with were pampered and well taken care of. They had large exhibits, lots of goodies to eat, got to play every day, and just hang out with their family.

From a moral absolutist standpoint you can make the argument that it's worse in captivity because they're stuck there, but they don't know any different, and if we think about removing them all from captivity we may get to a point where they all die in the wild, and we lose the species or good.

I won't convince anyone who takes a morally absolute stance against animal captivity, but I won't break a sweat as I argue that the animals I worked with had a damned good situation (I'd put up against any tiger's short, brutal life in the wild).

DrJawn28 karma

I appreciate the well-thought out reply

TigNewton13 karma

Beat's working!

Laxman25916 karma

How similar are big cats to regular cats?

TigNewton44 karma

Behaviorally it's extraordinary how similar they are. They're more intense and hungry, but the way they communicate with their body language, the way they rub on your leg (or chest) when they want attention, the way they roll on their back when they want a belly rub, the way they try to grab you when they're feeling frisky, the way their ears go back when they're being sneaky, or whip their tail back and forth when they want to run at you...just like a housecat.

Laxman2593 karma

Interesting, but how much does instinct come into play with big cats? Can they turn on a dime and go from playing to attack?

TigNewton8 karma

Absolutely. You're relying on your relationship with them mostly, but there's also a method to the play. If you're playing with a tiger and you have a toy on a stick, you can put the stick between them and you, particularly for the more feisty tigers. They may not be looking to "attack" per say, but if you know housecats, you know they find it fun to "play attack."

Story time: I was running ahead, about 10 feet ahead, leading a cat from one spot on the stage to another. I was taught to either run right next to them, or far ahead where you can check back and they can't jump on you without you looking. I drop some meat, she eats it, as I keep jogging, I look back, she's 10 feet behind, I look ahead as I'm approaching some steps, look back, she's still back there, glance forward as I start taking the steps, look back and she's on top of me. I fall back. Her elbows are on my chest. My arm is basically on her neck as an armbar for my protection. Her head is up and she's looking around. Her mission was accomplished. She wanted to tackle me. She had no other plans after that. She didn't use her claws, she didn't try biting me. My boss pulled her off of me and I continued the show.

I read a book by well known wolf biologist David Mech, where he explained that wolves aren't "killing machines." (This applies for big cats too). They have certain instincts, to chase if something runs from them, to trip the animal if they get close, but they have to be taught the rest. That's true of cats. Obviously there are exceptions and if a tiger wants to kill you, there may not be much you can do about it.

half-ass-hippie2 karma

This helps me feel better about the whole captive animal situation. After watching Tiger King I feel so awful for those animals. Happy to hear that some places give them a good life.

TigNewton3 karma

Yay. I know a lot of good people working in that field, and a lot of good facilities. I guess the sane places and individuals aren't quite as interesting to follow as the Tiger King crowd.

insaneintheblain-8 karma

At the same time, if you think about it, you have never experienced the wild either, so you don’t know what the tiger is missing out on - because you don’t know what you’re missing out on.

Do you think it’s possible you’re missing some perspective that the people wanting to reintroduce tigers into the wild do have?

TigNewton2 karma

I feel like Jack Hanna has talked about this a lot. It's not about saying the wild is hell, but to be realistic about it. It's such an imperfect place right now, particularly in Asia. I think we should fight to save the wild animals and wild spaces, while using well taken care of captive animals to teach and inspire people about conservation. Beyond actually captive breeding to save species that's the sort of mission of zoos and aquariums in the first place.

Before I went to animal training school I watched every documentary and read every book I could about animals. I went into animal training school as a skeptic on anima training or even how I felt about captive animals. Being around them convinced me that they could be happy and healthy in captivity.

There are those who think captivity is evil period. I'm not going to convince any of them to come to my point of view. There are those who think that captivity is a necessary evil. I've seen california condors and black footed ferrets and Mexican grey wolves and golden lion tamarins and amur leopards, all species saved by zoos. It makes me emotional to think we could have lost them. So for those species and the many species that are close to the brink, zoos are necessary, but also for educating and inspiring people and particularly children, it's absolutely vital. Maybe they'll go into conservation. Maybe they'll fund conservation. Maybe they'll write their congressman. Maybe they'll be the next Jane Goodall.

Maybe when we wise up, we'll have animal species that only exist in captivity, and then we can really talk about releasing them to the wild like we did Mexican grey wolves.

PokemonTrainerSix17 karma

How much does this job help you with dating in your personal life?

TigNewton27 karma

I dated a girl who played Wonder Woman at the same park. To be fair I knew her when she was just a sound tech, then got the roll of Cheetah, but I'm sure it helped.

I seem to remember taking a field trip to another theme park when I was in school and having a classmate note that one of the trainers was "hot." I was like, "really?" She was like "yeah, but all tiger trainers are hot."

That being said it may help get your foot in the door, but then you gotta try not to be a let down.

I did always have a tiger photo on okcupid even years later, and it's an attention grabber.

Shaysdays16 karma

Who is your favorite tiger you’ve ever worked with and why?

And who is your least favorite tiger to work with and why? (I won’t tell them)

TigNewton29 karma

Ha, love it.

We had 7 tigers. One passed away when I was working there at 9. He (Faruk) seemed to have had an obstruction, and we fought too keep him alive for months until liver disease finally took him down. One passed just last year at 15 (Kingda Ka).

Hara was our only standard black and orange cat, and she was my favorite because I was hers. She was very sweet and would seek me out and give me personal attention compared to the others.

Raina is a golden tabby bengal tiger and she was feisty as hell. She tackled me one time on stage (my first time working with her in that capacity). I guess she's maybe my least favorite just because she was harder to trust. Not that you can ever trust a tiger. I take it back. No least favorites. She was adorable and hilarious in her own slightly scary way.

Runners up Chandi, Balin, Kingda Ka, and Kiril were also amazing.

ahumanana14 karma

What methods do you use to train the tigers? Is it mainly positive reinforcement? How do you provide enrichment for them? Thank you!

TigNewton41 karma

Before I went to school I may have had a bit of a skeptical view of animal training because I'd read a lot and watched a lot of docs that made it out to be "bad." Then I went to this place that was focused mainly on positive reinforcement.

BF Skinner thought only positive reinforcement training worked. His grad students discovered that punishment does indeed work, but mostly only in the presence of the threat of it (reinforcement sticks better). Punishment can also cause unpredictable and often aggressive responses.

So when I got this tiger training job I was thrilled that they had the same position. Historically when it comes to tiger training (like in circuses), positive reinforcement was nowhere to be found. But we did all our training using positive reinforcement. Punishment was only used when it came to things that "had to" happen or not happen. Like they weren't allowed to bite us, scratch us, jump on us, fight their siblings, or sometimes go one direction down a corridor. The main punishment we used was a vinegar/water spray. We'd spray a fine mist and they hated the smell. That would usually get them to avoid it and do what we asked.

As for enrichment: We played with them with toys, we gave them different treats including bones, we'd make ice treats, we'd stack toys on pylons for them to knock off, we'd do training sessions, we'd spray cardbord with perfume for them to roll on and destroy, we'd put out hay for them, anything we could think of. One time we grabbed a picnic table from the guest area of the park and put it in with them. That wasn't so allowed, but the cats loved it and took a while of laying on it to destroy it.

Badger_Hound201712 karma

How do you feel about Ligers and Tigons?

TigNewton53 karma

You know, I worked with white tigers and golden tabby tigers which I was not excited about. I absolutely loved the cats, but I don't like the idea of breeding that way (for color). Breed them for genetic diversity, keep them natural (and you can argue that whites and other colorations have been found in the wild in the past so it's cool, but...) it just makes it hard to really drive home messages about conservation and staying informative on tigers.

Ligers and Tigons are even further in that direction. I mean yeah we breed donkeys and horses to make mules and there's a reason for that, but there's no reason for ligers beyond "look how big and weird it is!"

So I'm, not a fan. I'm not a big fan of labradoodles either.

MBG6122 karma

Why not labradoodles? It’s not like they are different species. They are the same species.

TigNewton7 karma

I like labs and I like standard poodles. Doodles are just silly.

(I'm partially joking)

PokemonTrainerSix10 karma

What sort of things can you train a tiger? Seems like training a house cat is challenging enough, much less a super predator.

TigNewton31 karma

The nice thing about tigers compared to housecats is that they're very food motivated (That is also the scary thing).

Not to say you have to starve them. Hell, they'll get fat as hell if you let them and they'll still be excited for food.

We trained ours to sit, stay, lay down, flip on their side, open their mouth on cue, do a long jump, climb a simulated tree, walk a cat walk, swim, do a shoulder rise, accept shots, blood draws, sit still for getting weighed, stay still for an x ray or an ultra sound, "leave" a toy, and I'm sure other behaviors I'm forgetting right now. All free contact, all with just the help of food or a bottle with milk (and a little blood).

They're probably a little smarter than a housecat and you can train a housecat a lot of things. The most impressive thing we trained a cat was for them to let us share their space safely (relatively).

Shaysdays9 karma

Could they be litter trained in any way?

TigNewton12 karma

Ha, doubtful. Just gotta clean up quickly.

PerilousAll9 karma

Large cat training seems like a job where you need to be pretty physically active and fit. Have you encountered people who had a real passion for working with big cats but just didn't have the physical size, speed or ability? Or who lost it over time?

TigNewton18 karma

Good question. The job I had this was very much true. I was asked if I liked running during the interview, or how I felt about getting jumped on by a tiger. We did a lot of playing, including running full speed with a toy attached to a rope or a stick so beyond playing angles it helped if you could muster some speed.

But I know people who worked in capacities that were more zoo-like. Maybe they didn't play with them, or they might roll a toy toward a cat, or leave enrichment items inside with them, but they weren't running or swimming or anything.

Most animal jobs will say you need to be able to carry 50 lbs, just because it's physical in that way. You'll have to move around a lot of food. We might unload a pallet or two of meat and if we just had two people to spare, that's carrying thousands of lbs of boxes from a truck to a freezer over the span of an hour or two.

I know of some old big cat trainers, so it's possible to keep doing it as you get older, but it depends what kind of physicality is involved. I had a couple of 5'4" female co workers that were fit but not bodybuilders and they got by just fine.

wookiepuhnub8 karma

Have you ever used your access to big cats to start a sex cult? If not, why not?

TigNewton3 karma

I was once offered a tiger job. I was waffling on it because it was very remote geographically and I had a girlfriend I really liked. She was an animal trainer too and they said I could bring her with but the owner of this company would be confused. You can easily find a woman who would gladly go with you to be around tigers.

Anyway, it's definitely clear that this has been a common thing with tiger trainers over the years.

gingerbeard3038 karma

So, did she do it?

TigNewton17 karma

It seems so, doesn't it? I've never had a great view of her, her hypocritical positions on animals, or her political influence that was very successful at hurting her competitors so I'm predisposed to be skeptical toward her.

kitties_in_a_box2 karma

> hypocritical positions on animals

Could you explain your opinion on that a little bit further? I did feel the same way after watching the show, but you might have seen more into this than an average viewer.

Also, what do you think about the diet of Joe's tigers?

TigNewton3 karma

As far as Baskin goes, her position is that it's wrong to have animals in captivity, but she has animals in her possession. She thinks that her methods of taking care of the animals are better than others because of her moralistic stance, but there are plenty of individuals who take great care of captive animals out there. There's plenty more to discuss on that topic and I think a lot about it.

I think what is true of her is true of a lot of "sanctuary" owners who often don't take any better care of the animals than the facilities they came from. Sometimes it's even worse. Elephants come to mind. Killer whales as well. And yes tigers.

He mostly fed donated horses? I know of some facilities that do that. It's definitely the cheapest option. The good thing is that they can give most of what they need. Horses are lean animals, and if you include not just the muscle meat, you're giving most of the nutrients a tiger needs to be healthy.

There are other diets out there by companies like Nebraska and Natural Balance, that I've fed. I certainly prefer those, just because I don't want to shoot a horse or cut it up, but I do respect the idea of using a horse who's days are number to feed another animal. I'd need to do more research to take a real stance on his particular facility.

delusionordream5 karma

Who was your favorite character from the show?

TigNewton28 karma

N/A

I'm kind of annoyed the show exists, to be honest. Not because it isn't interesting, but because of the commentary about that particular profession. Someone said all tiger trainers seem to have bad hair and I find that very offensive.

I'm of the opinion that if you're a tiger trainer, that should be the craziest thing about you.

insaneintheblain9 karma

But what form of methamphetamine do you prefer?

TigNewton1 karma

The good kind

zirtbow6 karma

Someone said all tiger trainers seem to have bad hair and I find that very offensive.

With shelter inside going on what steps have you taken to keep your hair game on point?

TigNewton12 karma

It's getting a little shaggy, alas. I'm (hopefully) getting married in August so I'll get a haircut in July if the world is open again.

Stole_The_Show5 karma

Have you ever been or witnessed an injury involving the tigers, if so, what happened?

Also were the tigers declawed? (Which I know is inhumane but a common practice for tigers kept in captivity apparently...)

TigNewton23 karma

The tigers got injured from time to time. One might get in a scuffle with another. We'd treat them, clean the wounds, etc. We had a cat land wrong and sprain her paw. We took her out of shows for a while, gave her pain killers, kept her from running as much as we could. Eventually we used a mobile x ray machine and found nothing. We often had consultations with our vets.

As for the cats injuring us, I took a scratch or two and just cleaned it up. Before I got there there were a couple of bites over the few years (one was misdirection/possessiveness over a toy and bit a leg and another was too excited about eating and bit through a hand.) They went to the hospital and got treated as any workplace injury. We were under added scrutiny for obvious reasons so we worked hard not to get hurt or have to deal with OSHA.

Our cats had all their claws.

I did a paper in animal training school about declawing large cats. The original method made their paws "floppy", but there was a more advanced technique that made it so they could still grasp and climb. Hollywood animal companies all had insurance stipulations saying that big cats needed to be declawed in order to work on set, so that was a big reason so many big cats were declawed.

I worked with a couple mountain lions at animal training school that had been declawed when they were used as cubs for a car commercial. At that time all big cats used in Hollywood were. Their paws worked as normal besides lacking claws because it was the newer method.

My position is that if you're working with an animal, they should have all their faculties. So drugging like Tiger Temple in Thailand: fuck off. Rather than declawing them, learn how to work with them. Train them not to use their claws on you.

A few years there was a USDA regulation outlawing declawing of big cats, so any of them you see in this country being trained free contact at the few facilities that still do it, they have their claws as they should.

Stole_The_Show9 karma

Wow, thank you for the detailed answer. It's very interesting.

When I was a kid I attended an overnight summer camp at Busch Gardens in FL and I loved it so much, I used to want to be someone that worked with exotic animals. We used to play a game with one of the gorillas there, we would all run to one viewing area and stand against the glass and the gorilla would run up and smack it then when we turned around he'd run to the other viewing area, we'd follow, then he'd run back, and so forth. Like a big slightly terrifying game of tag/hide and seek. Awesome memory though.

TigNewton10 karma

You're welcome.

It's funny, I'm boring in a haunted house because I'm too good at not acting scared or showing fright. So like scary situations with animals like tigers, baboons, water buffalo, whatever don't make me elicit fear...but I did an internship at the Santa Barbara Zoo once. I walk in the back area with a keeper, a gorilla comes running in, grabs a big ass barrel and whips the thing across the bedroom at the bars making the loudest sound in an echoing closed space and damned near stopped my heart. Fuck those guys are terrifying. Couldn't hide my fright that day.

AbdulRazin5 karma

Why you decide to becomes a professional tiger trainer and how your feeling during your first day at work?

TigNewton12 karma

I've always loved animals. When I was a senior in high school a friend told me about this crazy Australian crocodile wrestling dude on this brand new Animal Planet channel.

I turn it on early and there's this show called Moorpark 24/7, about an animal training school (college program). It blows me away. I decide to go there right then and there.

I attend a few years later, work with all sorts of animals, learn about all aspects of care in class. I love big cats. I get some experience working with a couple of mountain lions. I feel comfortable and confident around them.

I learn about this amazing tiger training job at a theme park that has a job opening. It's the only job for me. It's the only job I apply for. It's a job that includes a show, it's educational and conservation oriented, there's training, there's play, I see video of trainers going in the water with the tigers. I get the job right out of school.

Early on I was just outside the fence/enclosure so there was no reason for fear. When I first went in it was overwhelming, but I always had experienced trainers next to me to protect me as needed. There were always new experiences that brought with them a little anxiety. I remember doing "show behaviors" for the first time, and that was a bit nerve wracking. But I never had much fear of the cats.

ad00003 karma

Do you feel bad about exploiting these animals for a living?

TigNewton4 karma

Spending 40 hours a week with them I could see that they were happy and healthy. They got delicious food, they were able to go for a swim, they got to play a lot, they got love from their siblings and their trainers. Compare that to the wild where they deal with habitat fragmentation and loss, poaching, disease, prey scarcity, and human encroachment. Wild tigers live on average less than have the time, and it's often a brutal life what they get of it. I mean, just seeing photos of flies eating big cats ears up, where as we were able to put fly spray on them alone is a notable contrast in conditions.

So as far as quality of life, I'd put theirs up against any in the world, in captivity or the wild.

When it comes to the exploitation argument, we taught millions, maybe over ten million people, adults and children about tigers and their plight in the wild. Maybe a few of them were inspired to care about conservation and what they could do to improve things in the wild of Asia and America. In fact I'm sure of it. Seeing animals in person is more effective than seeing them on a tv, I believe that. And not everyone can afford to fly off to Asia or Africa and go on a safari.

So given their living conditions and our affect on inspiring and educating people to care about animals, I feel good about it.

Steve Irwin said it best.

mxzrxp3 karma

why the hell do we need tiger trainers? are tigers asking for them?

TigNewton4 karma

We taught and inspired millions of park guests over the years about tigers. We talked about tigers and their plight and what people could do to help. I think that's important.

So did Steve Irwin think that facilities like that were important.

420Prelude3 karma

Why do you look like Michael J. Fox?

TigNewton5 karma

I've never heard that comparison before. Love that guy.

sayloremoon2 karma

Have you ever been to an amusement park where the trainers there used risqué methods? Have you ever quit a training job because of this? I’m asking because I went to a park in Thailand and walked out because I felt sad for the tigers... definitely not the best methods used

TigNewton4 karma

I know a lot of legitimate animal trainers and quality facilities. Everyone does it different, but I never had real issues with them or thought any of them were being neglectful or abusive.

However I know about Tiger Temple in Thailand. My sister visited a while back and felt uncomfortable. I also know the authorities closed them down a few years ago rightly. When I saw video of what they did there it seemed very clear they were drugged.

I remember numerous videos where a tourist would sit down next to a tiger, a monk would pick up a tiger's head and place it in the tourist's lap. Now, their explanation was that the tigers were more docile because they only fed them cooked meat. That makes no damned sense besides maybe by losing the nutrients they were maybe malnourished. Most carnivore diets for captive animals have all of the nutrients they need, so maybe this place was feeding hamburger meat or something which doesn't have what they need. Anyway, I've been around a sleeping tiger that's been touched and man they jump. So it's unnatural for them to be manipulated like that.

Also the way they tried moving them. Ugh. Yeah, that's depressing to know that some places like it still exist in the world. The exotic pet trade and exotic meat trade are bad for animals and bad for us (see: coronavirus)

AzzyYou2 karma

Have you helped in any motion-capture work for animations and games?

TigNewton1 karma

I haven't. We were kind of out on the outskirts. There are some of my photos out their on the googles though. Never made any money off them though.

vintage-tea2 karma

How do you feel about free contact with tigers now?

TigNewton3 karma

I visited my animal training school a few times recently. They have a couple of tigers they rescued from a roadside zoo. I was able to walk with them and feed them and say hi. I felt confident and comfortable. I thought beforehand maybe I'd feel nervous since it's been a while, but I've always felt more confident with big cats than even domestic dogs. I'd love to work with them again in some capacity, but my dog business takes up a lot of time.

P00NTRAINSixtyNine2 karma

So tell the crowd what they're secretly wondering if able. Do you think Carole Baskin did it? And what do you think of them IF you can professionally say. If not no biggie bud

TigNewton21 karma

Your guess is as good as mine but probably.

I came from a school where we sat in a classroom. We learned about Skinner and Pavlov, we learned about other pioneering animal behaviorists and trainers. We learned different training methods. We learned about the history of animal training. We took behavior and training classes. Then we trained animals on the zoo. I trained a cougar a "speak" behavior, I trained a pig to do an open mouth, I trained a hawk flight behaviors. All for a grade. I learned by failing.

So I respect legitimate animal training. I consider myself a student of it. I'll tell you this. I saw a video from "Doc" Antle years back with him and his liger. He says that using food isn't training. He says they have to "have" to do the behavior for it to be training. Basically, there needs to be the threat of force. That is training but it's not the only kind. It's lazy, and unnecessarily cruel, and it doesn't work as well as positive reinforcement. At one point he bonks the liger on the nose, and then he says "sit!" The liger sits. Beyond being a dick move, it's bad animal training. Negative reinforcement training is to ask an animal to do something, and give them the ability to avoid an aversive stimulus. He doesn't do that. He gives the aversive stimulus, then asks them to do the behavior. So no matter what, the animal gets punished.

I prefer positive reinforcement. It works better, it feels better for you and the animal, and if you use a variable schedule and reinforcement, the behaviors will stick better. The animals are more likely to do the behavior even if you ask them to do it without food. If you're trying to train a sort of "manner" behavior, using positive reinforcement and associating a desirable stimulus the behavior is more likely to happen even in your absence.

centrafrugal2 karma

Why do tigers need to be 'trained' ?

TigNewton2 karma

Like any animal, for their care in captivity. If you want to ask why they need to be captive, I've answered that elsewhere in this thread. But in the meantime I'll answer your question.

In zoos they've harnessed training to work with tigers to assist in their own care. From shifting from bedroom to yard so they can clean, to standing still for blood draws or shots, etc. When it came to our tiger show, we trained natural behaviors to show off their amazing abilities (they also found these behaviors fun). We also trained husbandry behaviors so they could help us help them stay healthy.

Tom_Dynamite2 karma

So in Tiger King Joe gets attacked by a tiger because he claims someone put cologne on his boots which sent the tiger in a frenzy. Is that him making shit up or is that something you need to look out for? To not wear cologne, deodorant or something like that?

TigNewton2 karma

I'd say we always wore deodorant and it wasn't a problem. We'd use perfumes as a behavioral enrichment item by putting it on a box or something. They'd mostly roll on it like a housecat might roll on catnip (we also tried that but that's hit or miss with big cats). We'd also tie a shoe to a stick and use that as a toy in shows until management asked us not to (more for how it looks than safety). They can distinguish between a shoe when it's on our foot and when it's tied to a stick.

We had tigers that would get furious at umbrellas, another that hated strollers, and another that hated big film cameras. We'd never bring anything like that in our exhibit because that would be taking our own lives into our hands. We'd also ask (demand) guests put umbrellas away if they were in front of our exhibit if one of the tigers that hated umbrellas was up near the front.

So I suppose it's possible. I think the female trainers wore perfume, though I'd have to ask them (I really don't remember). It was never an issue but individual animals all have there different shit, like we individual humans do..

JEveleigh2 karma

Did you see a tiger and now you understand, you saw a tiger and a tiger saw man?

TigNewton1 karma

I don't get it. Are these song lyrics?

2305954491 karma

Is it expensive?

TigNewton1 karma

What, exactly?

Norj3n1 karma

I'm having a photoshoot with my 80's hair metal band for an album cover/promo, and the shoot involves posing with a real tiger. What important do's/do nots that you'd tell us to follow? Besides the obvious stuff like harassing the animal and so on.

TigNewton1 karma

Assuming the trainer knows what they're doing, listen to them. Act as natural as you can (it should be a little nerve-racking but try). Keep your hands to yourself. Ask the trainer before doing anything around the animal. Tuck your hoodie strings in.

ShimritIsSuperBored1 karma

Were the tigers you worked with stereotypically ferocious? or more gentle?

TigNewton2 karma

I don't know what percentage I'd put on it, but most of the time they're gentle, although it helps to know what to look out for and how to react. In the morning we would walk them from their bedrooms out to the yards, they'd rub on us, we'd give them scratches, but one of them might also try to bite your knee for fun, or go try to pick a fight with another tiger through a fence.

They could get possessive over things like food or toys, they could get irritated at their siblings, they could decide they want to go from point A to point B fast regardless of whether you were directly between them.

When people ask if they ever tried attacking me/us, I'd say no, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't easily and accidentally hurt us or things couldn't heighten in a really short time.

edentron1 karma

thank you for this AMA!

have you ever had an interaction with one of the people featured on tiger king and if so what were they like?

[btw do you think carol baskin killed her husband?]

TigNewton1 karma

Any time!

I haven't. I worked with tigers that came from "Doc" Antle. They were covered in ring worm. Not saying an animal can't get ring worm in a well kept area, but it is usually because they haven't done a good job keeping animal areas clean and disinfected.

And your guess is as good as mine.

SFBushPig1 karma

What’s your opinion of Siegfried and Roy, generally as keepers of big cats and specifically about, ‘the incident’..?

TigNewton1 karma

My old boss actually worked for them. From what I understand Roy was more focused on tiger training, but by the end of their run, they spent more time schmoozing VIPs than actually training.

They had a quality staff of trainers, but if you're gonna be working hands on with animals like that, it's best to have a good strong relationship with them.

I think being in a dark box an hour every other night probably isn't very fun for an animal and likely gets frustrating.

I've heard different things about what proceeded the attack. One version contradicts the other. I heard they tried to force the cat (their most dependable cat by the way) to do a shoulder rise using a short leash after he wouldn't do it as cued. He didn't appreciate that and dragged Roy off stage. That was from a friend, hearing it from a former trainer there, but my old boss said they never used leashes like that, so who knows.

One thing is for certain and that's that their story was nonsense: that the tiger got startled and was trying to act like a parent to Roy and carry him by the neck off stage to safety. It's a male tiger, they don't have nurturing instincts and they'd eat their own cubs in the wild if given the chance.

Anyway my opinion is that it probably wasn't such a fun show to do, Roy hadn't spent the necessary time really working hands on with the cats anymore, a tiger got frustrated, it was a VIP show so they wanted to make sure it was perfect, they pushed the cat, and the cat pushed back.

kiravicars1 karma

How do you feel about tigers in captivity? Especially in the capacity of somewhere like 6 flags, where they are just there for peoples entertainment?

TigNewton1 karma

I've spent enough time around tigers and other animals to come to the conclusion that tigers do well in the wild. When given the best care, they're happy.

I'd put the care at the facility I worked at against any, and even against good situations in the dwindling wilderness.

As for it being about entertainment, I don't have much of an issue about it, and I don't really get the argument against it. Tigers are intelligent animals, but I guarantee you they don't know the difference between whether they're being trained to entertain or educate. We did both, and by using positive reinforcement methods we essentially gave them the choice to do the behaviors or not.

If they sat, we fed them, if they didn't, we didn't (in the moment, they'd still get the rest of their diet for dinner). Tigers bare some similarities with housecats and one of those is that mostly what they want to do is nap. Ours did a lot of that. They also enjoyed swimming. And they would run toward the stage when they were in a show. Yeah they'd get some meat and a bottle, but you know what part they loved? Play sessions. Some cats would back up into the pool at the end of their segment because they wanted to play with us.

Beyond that, we focused on education about tigers and conservation. I wouldn't have pursued that particular job if that weren't the case.

big-boi-dev1 karma

Did that bitch carol baskin kill her husband?

TigNewton1 karma

187

_MeowSaysTheCat_1 karma

Did you ever feel threatened by the tigers? if so; how would you react?

TigNewton2 karma

I didn't really fear them. It just rarely entered my mind. However there were moments when Raina would look at me like she was gonna run and jump on me. At that moment I'd react by telling her no and waving my arms in front of me in a no signal. They were trained to know not to run at us when that was the case. I'd avoid Hara's teeth when she'd try to bite my knees. Usually if they were possessive over a bone I'd keep my distance, but we could take things from them as they'd been trained to let us since they were cubs.

We relied on our relationships, and our ability to read their behavior and a situation, but we often needed to react accordingly in any given moment to stay safe.

BreakingThe3rdWall1 karma

Ever had to breed a lyger?

TigNewton1 karma

No.

MizchiefKilz1 karma

How much meth does it typically take to turn a straight guy into your homosexual husband?

TigNewton5 karma

2 meths.

autofocus1111 karma

Have you read The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival?

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7624594-the-tiger

TigNewton1 karma

I haven't. Right up my alley, thanks.

jesusthomaschrist1 karma

This is a very general question so go with it where you wish, but what do you make of the moral dilemmas presented in the documentary Tiger King?

TigNewton1 karma

I guess I'd need to know more specifics.

I think tigers can live a quality life in captivity. They really do adapt to it well (if adapt is the right word since we're talking about animals born in captivity).

But they have to be treated well, get the nutrition they need, the veterinary care, behavioral enrichment. They have to be taken care of by professionals who go through the right channels to get the animals.

And they have to be there for a good reason. Whether that's rescuing them from a crappy situation or using them to educate and inspire people about animals and conservation. Often both.

They shouldn't be pets or treated like pets. I don't like the idea of breeding an animal, and using the cubs as money makers and then just casting off the adults. Hell, I love adult tigers. They deserve to get the kind of life and attention to their care throughout their entire lives. I know a lot of animal trainers who dedicate their lives to making that happen for their animals.

jesusthomaschrist1 karma

You answered my question perfectly, thank you!! That seems like a very rational and well thought through viewpoint, especially compared to the polarized and sensationalized arguments in the documentary.

TigNewton2 karma

Thank you. I can go that direction as well but try not to.

Xero05041 karma

Do you find your tigers cute or intimidating?

TigNewton3 karma

Yes.

My boss liked saying our tigers loved, respected and trusted us. We loved and respected them but didn't trust them. Healthy respect. If they had something they wanted, we trained to give it up for food (usually), so even in their most intimidating situations we had the ability to approach them and work with them.

emmapeche1 karma

Is training a cat similar to the process of training a dog? Do you have any best tips for at home pet training?

TigNewton2 karma

Yes, particularly in the way of working on individual behaviors.

I generally approach each animal regardless of species in a similar way, even though different species have different issues to keep in mind. I approach them in a confident, even keeled, calm way. As a guy I'd say it's easy to be intimidating and that's not an energy you want to bring.

As for specific training, you can train a tiger to sit the same way you may train a dog. Get in front of them, move toward them and back them up with food over their head until it's natural to sit. We trained an open mouth behavior by putting a cup up to their face and they'd try to bite it. You'd reward them as they open their mouth and take the cup away. Eventually you replace the cup with a hand cue and/or a vocal cue.

Tips for pet training: reward them for behavior you want to see more. Ignore bad behaviors if you can (by that I mean don't reward them for it). Be consistent, not just you but anyone who interacts with the animal (this is particularly tough for families with children but it's good to get the kids in on the game). If they have an issue of jumping when they see you, turn away, don't give them attention until they stop, or redirect it to another behavior, like you can train them to sit instead, and reward them.

There's lots of help out there. Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor is a great start. Really educated look at animal behavior and training.

emmapeche1 karma

Wow thank you so much!! I love positive reinforcement training and I will look into your recommendation. I’m a dog owner btw. I love cats but don’t have any atm.

TigNewton2 karma

You're welcome!

Yeah positive reinforcement and consistency are key. Also timing. If they do what you want, let them know right away that it's what you want. Feed them right away, tell them they're a good dog, give them a pet or a scratch, etc, so they connect the desired behavior with the reinforcement. Good luck!

emmapeche1 karma

How did you get into this profession?

TigNewton1 karma

When I was a kid one of the many professions I wanted to be was a vet, and even saved a snake that had been mauled by a cat. I realized I didn't want to just see a string of animals I'd never get to know, many of which I'd have to put down so I forgot about that dream.

When I was in high school I discovered a show on Animal Planet called Moorpark 24/7 about an animal training school in socal. I eventually went there. Worked with mountain lions and numerous other animals. I was most partial to big cats.

I applied for a tiger trainer job at a six flags job that was available before I graduated and I got it. I've always just been comfortable with big cats.

emmapeche1 karma

That’s so awesome! Thanks for answering my question :)

TigNewton1 karma

You're welcome.

Ohsnapclipclap1 karma

What do you think about private ownership of big cats?

TigNewton3 karma

I'm opposed to big cats and exotic animals at pets. I do however know of plenty non AZA accredited facilities with big cats and exotic animals that are professionally run, by well trained individuals. They treat the animals well and use them in some measure for education. Since I stopped working with tigers I've been working to do that. Since I don't have access to land or money, I started a dog company in order to eventually fund that goal.

Okaloha1 karma

If a housecat was a size of the tiger , do you think it would kill a human ?

TigNewton3 karma

I think some would. More than dogs do, and dogs kill some people each year. Dogs may be 10,000 or 100,000 years removed from their wild ancestor, cats may only be 3,000. They're still more wild than dogs. They'd be scary. I don't think you'd want them around kids.

unecroquemadame2 karma

I don't know if they'd do it on purpose. Most house cats are pretty docile. I like to joke that if one of my cats in particular was the size of a tiger he'd be terrifying. He likes to sharpen his claws like they are razorblades and loves killing things. It's tough to play with him for this reason because he gets really into it and it usually involves drawing blood. I've definitely had smaller children be afraid of my cats because in reality, they do have very sharp claws and sharp teeth, they're just tiny and don't weigh very much.

TigNewton2 karma

Yeah I don't know if they'd do it on purpose, but if they were that big, big deadly accidents would happen.

wilsonvilleguy1 karma

Do you think she did it?

TigNewton1 karma

Probably.

balls_galore_691 karma

Do you think the American government or some other country with a government who wants to protect these kinds of animals, should go and buy a large island somewhere and have a large collection of tigers or lions run free. Coming by every so often to top the island up with live animals who can re populate the island with food for the animals.

If that was ever possible, do you think that could take some of these captive cats, give them a large area to learn how to live wild, then eventually take them to where they originated from, and set them free?

TigNewton2 karma

I mean you could potentially do something like that with a large area fenced in (double fenced I imagine), for a similar price. But either way, it's hard to say. You have sub species of tigers and you don't really want to muddy those waters, like has been done with our captive tiger population in the US (not including AZA accredited institutions with SSP tigers).

I think you constrict who can have them, how they can have them, just get them out of the hands of the scummy types (like in the Netflix doc), make sure they're used for education, and I think tigers do well in captivity in a good situation. Some species don't. I don't think you have to get too fancy with it.

I do worry that we're going to drive them to extinction in the wild before we wise up. I also worry that anti captivity people will be successful and we'll lose entire species before we can save them. Think Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home.

It's and interesting idea.

KeyDebate21 karma

How big was the biggest tiger you worked with?

TigNewton1 karma

We had a 600lb tiger named Kiril. Next largest were a couple of 500lbers.

waifipaifu1 karma

But should I watch tiger king?

TigNewton1 karma

Only if you want to be in on the national conversation.

SpawnFlick1 karma

Хммм... Есть один вопрос, хотел бы ты иметь себе домашнего тигра, и почему?

TigNewton1 karma

Russian?

Okaloha1 karma

He asked if you would like to have a pet tiger. Why or why not?

TigNewton3 karma

Thank you.

I aspire to have my own educational animal non profit. While it would be a private facility it would be professionally run. It would have the proper USDA permits. It would have a mission to save animals (not just tigers) that have no where else to go. We'd use the animals to inspire and educate children (and hopefully adults) about conservation.

I love being around animals, but I think there's a right way and a wrong way. The wrong way is to get one and keep it as a pet. The right way is to take a professional route. I went to a school where I took veterinary classes, wildlife education classes, conservation, animal diversity, behavior, training. I got degrees. And then I got a professional job. We made it our mission to yeah, entertain, but also educate and inspire people about tigers.

That's what I want to continue.

I want to do it the right way though.

ImTheGodOfAdvice1 karma

Can I...can I pet it?

TigNewton1 karma

I don't really support them but I think in the south there are places where you can still.

randomhuman_230 karma

Did carol baskin kill her husband?

TigNewton1 karma

prolly

Norgeroff-1 karma

What color is your toothbrush?

TigNewton7 karma

I get those pulsar ones. They're usually white.