Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Does it stink when you put your head in a lion's mouth? Not really. It's not as bad as camel's breath. Lions have big mouths, but they're not very deep. His fangs, his canines, rest on my bottom jaw and on my temple. The first time I ever did it, I thought, Oh Christ! What am I doing? But you don't just stick your head in a lion's mouth. First you've got to get the animal used to you. It's a slow process. When you're ready, you just have to do it. But do it quickly. In for a penny, in for a pound.
You don't really "tame" lions. You just train them. It's repetition, 15 or 20 times a day. Every animal is different. Some are quick learners and some are slow. You bring them up and study them to see what they're going to be good at and what they're not. You have contact with them. You touch them. Or you can learn to bring out the aggression in them, get them to roar at you, scratch at you, and everything else. They have moods. The weather affects them. It's the same thing, I suppose, as in an office.
So far I've been fortunate not to have had a fatal accident. But it's the law of averages, really, a numbers game. It's like a race-car driver or a carpenter — everyone has their own little risks.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.