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Taming the Brain: Roy and Montecore

Taming the Brain:  Roy and Montecore by
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Roy Horn and Siegfried Fishbacher have performed around 5,700 shows since they began at the Mirage in Las Vegas over ten years ago. The signature of their magic show has been their white tigers and lions. Six shows a week, 44 weeks a year they worked with their big cats on stage, and not once has there been an incident. In fact, according to reports, Montecore nipped at Roy’s arm earlier in the show before carrying him off stage and seriously injuring him, without leaving any bite marks.

Which is more than I can say about Baby Kittee here at my own house.

I know all about Baby Kittee. She is, to quote the poet William Blake, “red in tooth and claw.” As I vacuum around the house, I find wings, scales, tails and other remnants of her work. Her name was chosen by my granddaughter. It might as well have been “Grownup Killer.” Cats are always one generation away from feral; they do not permanently domesticate, like the dog.

Now did you catch that 6 shows a week? According to Horn’s surgeon, Dr. Derek Duke, “A contributing factor to [Roy’s] current condition is his extraordinary will and strong physical attributes. These are significant elements in his ability to recover.” Indeed his “thumbs-up” signal to his partner has been mentioned by reporters.

We are told that as he was carried away, he asked that the cat not be put down. “Please don’t shoot the cat,” he said. “Save the cat.”

It was Roy Horn’s 59th birthday (October 23, 2003) when he was performing on stage with the 7-year-old, 600 pound Royal white tiger, Montecore, that the cat injured him.

Reports from the shocked observers varied, but the consensus, now that some time has passed, is that the tiger became fascinated with a woman’s “big hair” in the audience, even to the point of lying down on the job, at which point Roy bopped him to get his attention. Roy then endeavored to stay between the cat and the woman (what’s with the “big hair”?) and it was at this point he fell, stage hands rushed forward, and Montecore took action. According to the head of the Mirage (Mr. Wynne), he didn’t “drag” Roy offstage, nor did he “attack” or “grab” him.

Siegfried and other big cat experts agree that if Montecore had meant to do the job, he would have shaken him to break his neck, and, as Siegfried said, “There would be no Roy.”

Instead Wynn describes it as a gentle “carry,” like a mother cat carrying her kitten off to safety. It is entirely possible Montecore was heading back to his cage and taking what he cared about with him.

In interviews, Roy talks continually of his bonding with his cats. He is present at their birth, and constantly thereafter. We know that bonding can occur between all mammals because of the limbic brain we share in common.

In my Emotional Intelligence courses, ironically, I use the expression “the tiger within" to refer to those primitive brain emotions or reactions that occur automatically, that have to do with fear, aggression and self-preservation. Psychologists call it the 3F reaction – fight, flight, or canoodle. And that’s about the only decision reptiles, and lower animals ever have to make. It's debatable that they can learn, they react to their environment in terms of what it can do to them or form them, and they don't bond with their young (in fact will eat them).

We retain this brain. To this we added the limbic brain (mammalian), what makes us care for our young, bond, be able to empathize, communicate and play … and why when we look into the eyes of one another, or another mammal, we see soul, a sentient being. It initiates mutual caring. If that frog in the example were actually in the boiling water calling out, would it tear at your heart the way a baby’s cry does, or the wailing of your dog when you leave in the morning??

To this, we evolved the neocortex, the crowning glory of the homo sapiens. Or is it? Magnificent as it may be, the lower brain will always rule, emotions will always take precedence, because they're necessary for survival.

When we fear – and in today’s world our fear can be totally symbolic (your boss yelling at you) – we get “hijacked.” We are “flooded” with emotion which is specifically designed to shut down our “thinking” (our ability to reason) and we act, i.e., we act without thinking. We are constantly at risk of the tiger within us becoming confused and primitive, like Montecore, and doing something we would not ordinarily do.

Montecore is a veteran performer. Something went awry, something was different, and he reverted to self-preservation tactics, by all reports. In the fight or flight, he decided not to attack anyone, but to get himself and Roy to safety.

Something emotional happened, and among mammals, emotions are contagious. You know this if you’ve been in a newspaper office the day they announced it was closing, or been around when someone got chastised in public. Was it something with Roy, the same thing that caused this magnificent physical specimen to slip and fall? His birthday? Wondering, as I do, why the fascination with the “big hair.” (How many friends of mine have told me their cats love to lick hair-sprayed hair… or did it look like “fur” to Montecore?) Was he overly tired and less able to concentrate – having celebrated his birthday, or being about to? Was he preoccupied with thoughts of the Big 6-0 on the horizon?

When Roy fell, it was something Montecore had never seen happen on stage before. If he was bonded with Roy, he may have feared for Roy, who knows. But it was change – big change – that thing that throws all of us. Then the stage hands rushed out, more commotion … fear. One reverts. Bad things can happen. We can hurt people we love. We can hurt ourselves.

Prey as we are to the beast within, all we can do is be aware, and to learn to manage. This is Emotional Intelligence. And this, Roy understood about his beloved tiger. It wasn’t Montecore’s “fault”…nor do we routinely “blame” animals, lacking a neocortex as they do. However, in regards to humans, we continue to battle this out in the courts, and in our own hearts and minds. It is for sure we never want that to be said about us. That “I didn’t mean to kill her, I love her,” or “I don’t know what came over me,” or “That wasn’t like me.” We are as capable of as serious injury to others as Montecore is, physically – and also emotionally, because we have words, and when we disable our neocortex, we are left with the same equipment Montecore has.

Our prayers are for all concerned, including the show’s workers, described as “family,” who must also cope with possibly losing their jobs, another EQ dilemma. Because we are humans, our brains are often at odds with one another and we suffer conflict, guilt and shame. As one worker said in a newspaper quote, it was awful to be worrying about herself at that time, but she was a single mother and it was her job. Let us say the means of preservation for herself and her children. We need to keep learning about our emotions. As Childre and Martin say, “The emotional frontier is truly the next frontier to conquer in human understanding. The opportunity we face now … is to develop our emotional potential and accelerate rather dramatically into a new state of being.”

Photo of Roy with baby white tiger.

“Look for the magic that is around you in nature, flowers, and all the animals that share this planet with us.” Roy Horn

Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, , Coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. Coach Certification Program - fast, affordable, no-residency, training coaches worldwide. Email for free ezine.

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