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Thursday, June 12, 2003 02:58 pm

Not (quite) a scratch

Brunon Blaszak, tiger tamer

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Brunon Blaszak recalls that about 25 years ago a Bengal tiger bit through his mother's arm. He was somewhere between 8 and 13 years old, but wasn't traumatized by the incident--he went on to pursue the family business. At the age of 16, he became "The World's Youngest Animal Trainer."

Blaszak's mother and father were circus performers and tiger tamers in Central Europe when John Ringling North brought them to America in 1965 to join the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. His grandparents had a tiger-wrestling act and did movie studio work with wild animals. Blaszak, who owns 25 tigers and lives in Florida on an 85-acre ranch, carries on both family traditions. For several months out of the year, he's out on the road with his tigers at various carnivals. This week he's at the Sangamon County Fair. His tigers also make appearances in commercials, movies, and television shows, including Xena: Warrior Princess.

Blaszak, who's now 38, brings eight tigers with him during his traveling tour. Four of the tigers are Siberian; four are Bengal. "Almost all tiger species are endangered," Blaszak says. The federal government visits him once a month to make sure he's taking care of the animals, which aren't cheap to keep around. "They eat about 150 pounds of meat a day, seven days a week," he says. "It adds up."

Blaszak's routine includes walking the tigers high above the ground on narrow planks and educating the audience about the animals. He travels with his wife, Maritza, their six-month-old son, Sebastian Alexander, and an assistant. He's the only one who enters the tiger rink, though.

As for injuries, Blaszak says all three generations, aside from his mother, who manages his act from Florida, have been blessed. He's had to get stitches from time to time: 16 once, 10 another. "Usually it's because they're being like cats: acting feisty and swiping. Nothing life threatening," he says. Would he like young Sebastian to carry on the tradition? "He can do whatever he wants," Blaszak says. "I don't expect him to do what I do."

Bruno Blaszak's Royal Bengal Tiger Show is in town for the Sangamon County Fair in New Berlin, where he'll perform three half-hour shows daily at 3, 5:30, and 7:30 from Thursday, June 12, to Saturday, June 15. For more information, call 488-2685 or visit www.sangcofair.com. To get to the fair, head west on I-72/36, take the 82 exit south, then follow the signs.

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