Big cats, elephants greet fans as circus opens

Author: Ashley Mitchem, Morning traffic, news reporter, amitchem@wjxt.com
Steve Patrick, Managing editor of digital content, spatrick@news4jax.com
Published On: Jan 16 2014 02:20:15 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 16 2014 07:32:44 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus' first show of 2014 opens Thursday night, but some fans got an early look at some big cats and got a chance to join the elephants for lunch.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus started in 1919 and bills itself "The Greatest Show on Earth."

Skilled performers from around the globe perform awe-inspiring feats, but the circus is also known for its performing animals.

“You get to see them in action," said trainer Alexander Lacey. "I work with the lions and tigers. Everything that they do in the ring is extensions of their natural ability, so they do lots of jumping, rollovers."

IMAGES:  Lunch with pachyderms

Children from Daniel Kids got to get close to the big cats and learn about the care and training that goes in to getting the exotic animals ready for showtime.

"We have parts of the routine where they appear as though they've been very aggressive and trying to attack me,

but they are all just trained movements where we show of the animal's natural beauty," Lacey said. "You know, they like seeing me kiss and cuddle them, but they also want to see a lion and tiger make a little bit of noise and growl and snarl, so we do they do that as well in the show."

After the feline encounter, the kids and others went outside, for lunch which the elephants. While the pachyderms ate a buffet of fruits and veggies, food trucks provided food for the humans.

The circus is in town for performances Thursday evening through Sunday. For show times, ticket prices and more, visit Ringling.com.

"One hour before the performance you can come and meet all the artists up close ask them anything you'd like," Lacey said. "I'm there as well; so are the other animal handlers, and you can ask us anything. We're there to answer your questions and sign autographs and get your photos taken as well."