“They have their good days and bad days. You have to watch their personalities,” said animal trainer Terry Frisco, whose “Elephant and Tiger Encounter” show has been thrilling visitors at the Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair all week. “I’ve never had any real problems with them ... . We each know our boundaries. As with any animal, you have to expect the unexpected. When you say ‘that will never happen to me,’ that’s when you put yourself in danger.”
Frisco, 42, of Peoria, Ill., has been around animals most of his life. His father was a zoo director in Peoria for 20 years.
For the past 10 years, Frisco said, he has been training tigers on his own. He has trained elephants for more than 20 years.
“I enjoy training elephants the most,” he said. “They are very smart.
“But don’t think you can get them to do anything they don’t want to do. An 8,000-pound animal doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do.”
During the tiger show, Frisco and his wife Linda, who also is a trainer, are in a cage with five of the big, powerful cats. In addition to putting the animals through a number of entertaining tricks, Linda provides the audience with general information about the habits of tigers and the parts of the world where they are generally found.
“For the past 20 years most tigers are found in captivity,” Linda said. “Some species are already extinct in the areas of the world where they lived ... . Today there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild.”
It takes a lot of time and patience to train both tigers and elephants, Frisco said after a recent performance.
“You make them want to do things by giving them rewards all the time,” he said. “If they don’t do what you want at first, you keep practicing and rewarding them with treats until they want to do it.”
After each free performance of both the tiger and elephant shows, elephant rides are offered to fair visitors for a small price. Shows are offered three times a day.
“I have been working with elephants since I was 2o years old,” said Felicia Frisco, the couple’s 15-year-old daughter. “I’ve also helped raise (tiger) cubs.”
Felicia added that she wants to follow in the footsteps of her parents and train animals to perform.
“Training tigers is like someone training their dog or cat,” she said. “They are pretty smart and they pick up on things easily ... They play and do everything else that a cat does.”
Chicken Bog Cook-Off
The 14th annual National Chicken Bog Cook-Off will be held Saturday as a special event at the fair. A panel of judges will determine who is the best of the best, with the first-place winner receiving a $1,000 prize and a trophy to boot. Second place will receive $300 and a trophy, and third place will get $200 and a trophy.
“This has become a very popular contest,” said Jean Stewart, coordinator of the cook-off for the past several years. “The contest had outgrown the ability of the fair to provide a suitable site for the large number of contestants who wanted to compete. As a result, we had to restrict the contest to the first 12 contestants who entered.”
The fair provides a cooking space for each contestant and water for cooking and cleaning. Contestants must provide all other materials they may need, and no items may be pre-cooked before the competition begins.
The competition will begin at noon on Saturday and the judging will be at 5 p.m. Once the winners are announced, chicken bog plates will be offered for a $5 donation, with the proceeds going to vocational agricultural programs in Robeson County.
The cook-off is being sponsored by Mountaire Farms of North Carolina.
Today at the fair:
4 to 11 p.m. — Fair open to public
4 to 11 p.m. — Mayberry's Barney and Goober (All Day)
6:30 to 9 p.m. — Alan Sands, comedy hypnotist, Time Warner Stage
7 p.m. — 4-H Poultry Show and Awards, Livestock Arena
7 to 10 p.m. — Radion100.9 Gospel Sing
8 p.m. — 4-H Turkey Show and Award, Livestock Area