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Big cats — a cool fair show

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If you go a zoo, the "big cats" are usually inactive and don't put on much of a show for visitors. However, a new show at the Utah State Fair this year features tigers at their liveliest.

"The Exotic Endangered Cats of the World Show" is free with a regular fair admission, running three times each weekday and four times a day on weekends through Sunday, Sept. 16.

"Our cats here do the same thing as your house cats, but ours do it bigger," Barbara Hoffmann, one of the family operators of the show, said.

How about tigers who give "high fives?" How about tiger kisses? Or big cats who stand up and beg?

Cats of any size are finicky and so there's no guarantee they'll perform all the stunts in every show.

Hoffmann, who puts on the show with the help of her husband, Yaro, and behind-the-scenes aid from daughter Rachael, said that's the beauty of the show — every one is different depending on mood of the cats.

She said they never force the animals and if they won't do a stunt as planned, they go on to something else. Sometimes she gets Cassandra, a 10-year-old royal Bengal tiger, to pucker up for a kiss and sometimes she doesn't.

The Hoffmanns, from Tampa Bay, Fla., have been doing their cat show at circuses, state fairs and other events for the past 15 years. They've had some scratches and minor injuries from working with the cats — one of whom, Boris, weighs 900 pounds — but have never had any serious injuries.

"We're very conscientious of safety," Barbara Hoffmann said.

The show includes a variety of tigers, 15 in all. There are also black panthers, spotted leopards, the Florida panther and others, in a mixture the Hoffmanns don't believe has been ever put together before.

Patience is the keyword for the trainers and the spectators. The show is slow in warming up because the cats usually have to be awakened from — what else? — cat naps. The final show, at 8:30 p.m., is usually the day's most lively.

For the almost half-ton Boris, just watching him sit atop a small metal perch is fascinating enough.

The Hoffmanns have been to Utah before with circuses, and they're impressed with the wildlife knowledge of residents. In their early shows they sometimes have a trivia contest with spectators, and they've had trouble stumping Utahns — something that hasn't happened in other states.

"I think Utah is above a lot of states in an awareness of environment and people have a lot of wildlife knowledge," she said.

The secret to training the big cats is getting them when they are young. The Hoffmanns love the animals, some of whom can live as long as 30 years. They stress they aren't out to get rich and especially enjoy putting on shows for children who have never been to a zoo.

The Exotic Endangered Cat Show, located at the east side of the Fairpark by the Gazebo, is 30 minutes long. Times are weekdays at 2:30, 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., with an extra noon performance on Saturdays and Sundays.

E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com