Tigers are little kinder

Romanian trainer Stefan Plesoianu brings rare animals to Minsk

By Viktar Andreev

“I’ve travelled over most of the world, but haven’t seen audiences anywhere that compare with those in Belarus,” admits the animal trainer. “I’ve seen many circus shows where there are only 100-200 spectators. Believe me, it’s very sad to perform when you don’t feel the emotions created by a full house at the Belarusian State Circus. Where there are few spectators, shows aren’t as bright and colourful.”

The appearance of Stefan Plesoianu, a star of the Bucharest Globus Circus, always guarantees a full house. He uses dogs, horses, camels, tigers and lions in his shows, which are awaited with great impatience. His white tigers and lions — the rarest animals on the planet — are the biggest draw, of course; only about 36 white lions exist worldwide.

How did you find yourself in the circus?

I’m not from a circus family, being the first among us to choose such a profession. I went to the circus with my parents, as a child, and decided to become an artist. My grandparents had plenty of animals, including cows and horses, and I always spent a great deal of time with them. However, I never dreamed of becoming an animal trainer.

I left Romania for Germany, searching for a job, and found one with a circus. Circuses always need people, as the work is hard and the salary is low. Anyway, I was glad to have a job and to work with animals. Other workers would come and go but I stayed. I tried to stay close to the animal trainer and, gradually, began to train horses and camels myself. I was always keen on wild animals but was told that it was too early and that I still needed training. It’s true that you can’t become an animal trainer overnight.

It’s very vital to study the psychology of animals first. Animals are like people, so you need to treat them similarly. For example, someone may appear good natured but might unexpectedly ‘bite’ you; animals also have good and bad characters. You may become friends with someone as soon as you meet them; at other times, you find it difficult to communicate with them initially, yet become closer over time, finally becoming friends for life. The same happens with animals.

How long have you been working with tigers?

Just 15 years. Prior to this, I was training horses and camels. I can say that this was a time of study, since these animals are less dangerous. To work with predatory animals, it’s vital to be professionally and morally mature. Working with tigers requires an enhanced level of skill. You need to get to know them for some time. Now I have six tigers and two lions.

Are there any strict rules to obey on entering a cage with animals?

When you enter the cage, your thoughts should be focused. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted: physically or mentally. It’s dangerous to let your mind wander. When you’re in the cage, the surrounding world shouldn’t exist for you. You have no problems and no other business, no troubles or pains. All that exists is you and the wild animal. That’s all! However, I do have an animal I can kiss.

Do you have any pets at home?

I have a dog and cat.

It’s said that you have the rarest animals on the planet.

Yes, you rarely see white lions — even on television. Only three live in circuses: two are mine and one resides in Germany.
Which are gentler: tigers or lions?

Tigers, since lions always remember that they are king and let you know it. They seem to say: ‘Why are you giving me commands?’ My show is doubly dangerous, as I combine tigers and lions, who aren’t natural friends.

Do your tigers and lions ‘make friends’?

No. It’s like a schoolroom. One child may behave well while another misbehaves. The teacher must keep a tight rein on his ‘pupils’. As soon as he leaves the classroom, they become very naughty. Our work is difficult and dangerous. If you don’t like animals, you shouldn’t go into this profession. You might think we do it for money but, really, we love the lifestyle. I’m not just talking about trainers but about anyone working in the circus; the sawdust gets into your blood, like a drug. Do you understand? Once the sawdust of the arena gets into your blood, you become ‘addicted’ to the circus.

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