Circus World tiger trainer Ryan Holder plans to introduce two new members of his family this weekend at his second annual after-hours fundraiser to help protect wild tigers.
Born in a United States zoo, two 8-month-old female tigers have joined the eight other cats in Holder’s ShowMe Tigers “family.”
They will make their public debut during “An Evening with Tigers” Saturday at Baraboo’s circus museum in celebration of Global Tiger Day. Tickets to the event are $50 apiece, with all of the proceeds donated to the International Elephant Foundation for its patrolling activities in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia, Holder said.
“This is the most — I feel — is the most important thing that we do all year,” he said. “It gives people an opportunity to learn more about my animals. It gives them an opportunity to give back to the animals that don’t have the luxuries that mine do.”
Throughout the summer at Circus World, Holder talks with the public and shows them what he does with tigers. At the evening event, however, guests have the chance to see the big cats closer and in a more “intimate environment” involving special treats, Holder said.
“Certain things we do for enrichment, we don’t do during the day; we do it in the evening. Sometimes it’s giving them carcass meat — stuff that may not be public-friendly, but the cats really enjoy that,” he said.
Guests will be able to speak with Holder one-on-one, take home one of the paw-print paintings he makes with tiger Zuri and get their pictures taken — safely — with a tiger, according to the event’s Facebook page. The Barn Restaurant and Bar donated food and drinks.
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A special presentation will explain how he cares for and trains the tigers in more detail than he gives at daily performances. The event also will include a silent auction featuring custom artwork created for the fundraiser and a live auction featuring “a special item.”
“I think this year’s going to be the hardest auction that we’ve had, because I might be bidding against everybody that’s coming. … A lot of these paintings have been done specifically of my tigers.”
And he can tell. Holder said he recognizes each of his tigers as easily as members of his audience. He refers to them as family, emphasized by the fact that three are named after his grandparents.
Since 2016, ShowMe Tigers has donated $20,000 — $5,000 for each of the first two years and $10,000 last year — to the International Elephant Foundation. Holder pledged another $10,000 this year, which he said he’ll donate regardless of whether fundraising efforts meet that goal.
Holder said he chose IEF because he wanted “an honest group” that makes a “real difference” for tiger conservation. The nonprofit organization already patrolled some areas of the Way Kambas park in Sumatra to thwart poachers and protect wildlife, but he said his donations allowed for the addition of patrols in areas with a larger tiger population.
According to IEF’s 2018 report, its projects focus primarily on elephants but benefit other endangered species, including the Sumatran tiger, by protecting their habitat. Having lost about 95% of their historical habitat range, fewer than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Sumatran tigers, a critically endangered species, number less than 400.
“If these animals are out of sight, out of mind, nobody’s going to do anything to help protect them, and if I’m not doing it with the opportunities I have to have tigers, who else is going to do something to protect what we’re almost losing?” Holder asked. “I think it’s very important. It’s our responsibility to not only provide for my animals, but try to do something for their wild cousins as well.”