On the Job with Eric Orkney

Lead tiger trainer at the Temple of the Tiger at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, which opens full-time this month.

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OCCUPATION:
Lead tiger trainer at the Temple of the Tiger at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, which opens full-time this month.

DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY.
We do all of the necessary husbandry duties, like preparing and cutting meat, cleaning kennels, minor landscaping, and maintaining the area. With two-thirds of our day directly in the tigers’ environment, you need to be always thinking and acting on your toes. Try to compare it to driving for extended periods of time on patches of ice. We use a training technique commonly known as operant conditioning, which is basically reinforcing the tigers with meat, toys, praise, or a combination of all three to increase the frequency of a desired behavior.

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST FRIGHTENING MOMENT?
Although we have incredible relationships with these tigers, they are not domesticated animals. Tigers are animals of many different emotions, and inhibition is not one of them. Let’s just say that when you look into the eyes of an unruly tiger and stand toe to toe with him, it would make the average person lose control of most bodily functions.

WHAT’S THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR JOB?
Sharing daily moments of extreme sensitivity and mutual affection with an animal that is notorious for being one of the world’s most powerful and vicious predators is a feeling that is beyond words—and the chicks dig it!

WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE GET OUT OF THE TEMPLE OF THE TIGER?
Our main mission, aside from giving our cats the best overall life possible, is to provide our guests with a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and interactive experience that can be seen nowhere else in the world. These animals are shown…to spark interest and inspire people to become more aware of the grim and uncertain future that tigers and so many endangered animals face today.

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