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You may not always get along with your neighbors, but the six white Bengal tigers, three Asian elephants and 15 or so miniature horses, French donkeys, llamas, goats and sheep that have been living side−by−side on Surf Avenue in Coney Island for the last month appear to be getting along just fine.
Just don’t send the llama over to the tigers’ place for a cup of sugar.
“I think I want to take home the kitties,” Coney Island resident Beverley Hill cooed last week during the Coney Island Boom−A−Ring’s Animal Open House. “I’m happy they’re here.”
The Animal Open House held prior to designated performances throughout the summer allows patrons an opportunity to see the circus animals up close and talk to the trainers charged with their care.
Located just behind the big top between the Abe Stark Skating Rink and the boardwalk, the wild and not−so−wild creatures tolerate not only each other but Coney Island traffic, partying and fireworks as well.
“They’re fine, they’re content,” 23−year−old tiger trainer and performer Vicenta Pages says. “As long as we keep everything familiar to them they don’t know the difference.”
The Coney Island Boom−A−Ring’s circus animals began arriving on the converted Taconic lot on West 21st Street and Surf Avenue on June 16. They’ll remain here until the circus engagement ends on September 7.
After that, the big cats and mighty elephants will take a two− to three−month break from performing down in Florida at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s off−season animal compounds.
“If they are comfortable, you are not going to have any problems,” elephant trainer Ramon Esqueda says.
After 36 years of studying and working with pachyderms, Esqueda believes that he’s become part of their family.
“That’s how you work with them,” he says. “Contrary to what people think that you just go in there and move them around – that doesn’t happen. You become part of the herd, part of the group, and because you are the one providing the food and water and everything, you become the leader of the group. That’s why when you go in there they follow you.”
Pages also shares a special relationship with her tigers.
“I’m married to them,” she says. “They come first.”
The tigers – especially the two jealous males – never let anyone forget that.
“When my husband comes, he has to stay far away from me,” Pages says.
Both trainers agree that the key to working with what are still essentially wild animals is building trust.
“Even with a natural enemy like a tiger, they’re comfortable with the tigers over there because they know that nothing is going to happen to them,” Esqueda explains. “These guys trust me, so when I bring them around they know nothing is going to happen – they know, ‘my dad is going to protect me.’”
Whenever possible, trainers have been known to take the elephants, and one or two of the other animals, on leisurely strolls outside their compounds.
Trainer Heidi Herriott admits that her menagerie of barnyard “warm and fuzzies” might have been a little “hesitant” at first about being in such close quarters with their marquee cousins.
“Now it’s business as usual,” Herriott says. “They trust us. If we tell them it’s okay, they’re fine.”
One of the pregnant donkeys is so relaxed that she might even give birth to a new foal before leaving Coney Island.
The tigers can get frisky as well, according to Pages – that’s why the females are on birth control.
“I loved interacting with the trainers,” Park Slope resident Nilda L. Morales said. “It looks like the animals are treated well.”
The Coney Island Boom−A−Ring runs Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through September 7. Tickets are available at 201−507−8900 and www.ringling.com.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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