For eleven minutes during our presentation of The Greatest Show On Earth®, audiences sit spellbound by Alexander Lacey and his bevy of big cats. Eleven magnificent lions and tigers join the dashing British star in the center ring for one of the most timeless displays in all of circus. The scent of danger looms heavily throughout the venue. Instinctively, spectators become carefully measured in the expression of their excitement. They’re not nearly as liberal with their ecstatic utterances as they are for the other acts. After all, this is one man amidst numerous renowned predators. But tensions are cooled as audiences come to realize that the display before them is not a spectacle of man vs. beasts, but man in harmony with majestic creatures – creatures even as innately perilous as lions and tigers.
The genesis of this bond began when Alexander was a child in his native England, where his parents owned two zoos. Although the compulsion for a life with animals was clear to the youth, his parents were adamant that he was not at all entitled. “My parents deemed it a privilege, not a right to work with animals,” says Alexander. Like any reputable animal trainer, life with animals begins with the care of animals. For Alexander, it would be several years before his parents would begin to instruct him. “This is not about being in the spotlight,” he says. “You have to be devoted. If you are dedicated, it produces an amazing bond and perhaps a great act,” he says.
There is a process that enables those eleven extraordinary minutes in center ring. For within that process there is a relationship that is being nurtured from a lifetime of devotion. “My whole life revolves around my animals. For the past 22 years I’ve been devoted to my animals more than my own human family,” he says. Alexander is a man in constant motion. Rarely have we had an exchange that was not in passing. He seems to always be on his way somewhere and that somewhere is almost always where his animals are. “With the big cats you have to be a leader. You earn their respect by the way you train them,” he says. “There’s no big secret to animal training – it’s repetition, reward and patience.”
Each of the big cats is fed 16 pounds of high-grade meats per day. They’re also watered throughout the day and groomed. Alexander personally brushes Masai V’s mane before every show. The cats have the option of roaming about and playing within their enclosures, but much like their wild counterparts they prefer to sleep most of the day.