Big cats to help Craig Lions Club raise money at Circus Sunday |

Big cats to help Craig Lions Club raise money at Circus Sunday

Sasha Nelson
Miss Elizabeth juggles sparkling balls during her Hair Hanging Circus act at the Culpepper and Merriweather Circus when it visited Craig in 2013.
File Photo

If you go

The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus

When: Free morning tour begins at 9:30 a.m. on July 9.

Two 90-minute shows start at 2 and again at 4:30 p.m. on July 9.

Where: Wyman Living History Museum, 4 miles east of Craig, 94350 Highway 40

Sponsor: Craig Lions Club

Tickets: $10 for adults and $7 for children ages 2 through 12 and seniors 65 years and over when purchased before the show from the Craig Chamber of Commerce or by calling 1-866-BIGTOP-6.

On circus day, tickets are available at the box office for $13 for adults and $8 for children and seniors.

Big Cats, unicyclists, dogs, trapeze, horses, high wire and contortion are a few of the feature acts in the family friendly Culpepper & Merriweather Circus arriving for performances in Craig on Sunday.

The Craig Lions Club tries to bring the circus to town every two years. It’s been four years since the last show. In 2015, problems finding a location for the circus forced the club to cancel the show. 

This year the circus is back at a new location, the Wyman Living History Museum, about 4 miles east of Craig.

Sunday the troupe will preform two 90-minute shows: at 2 p.m. and at 4:30 p.m. The midway opens an hour before the show and offers carnival food favorites like cotton candy and funnel cake as well as amusements, face painting and pony rides.

Lions Club President Kristi Shepherd is hoping the community will come to the show to support the club.

A portion of tickets sales is given to the club. In 2013 they raised about $1,500, she said.

The money provides eye exams and glasses to people in the community in need.

Shepherd is looking forward to renewing her friendship with another lion — Francis — that, along with two tigers, will perform in the show.

“In 2013, at the end of the night here, the lion tamer handed me a pair of gloves. I thought they were going to make me help take down the big top. Instead, I got to feed the lion and tiger. That made it for me,” Shepherd said.

For 32 weeks of the year, the 32-year-old Culpepper & Merriweather circus travels to over 200 towns in 17 different states.

The circus has Northwest Colorado covered, performing in Rangely on Saturday, then Craig, before heading to Steamboat Springs on July 10 and 11, Walden on July 12, Kremmling on July 13 then Leadville July 14 and 15.

“There is occasionally a day off and time off during each day,” said Jim Royla, a home office administrator for the circus.

During the off-season the animals have 20-weeks of rest at a sanctuary.

Circus animal safety

Trey Key, the troupes’ lion tamer, owns the circus that is based in Hugo, Oklahoma.

According to inspection reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Services:

• Between 2005-10 Culpepper and Merriwell Circus was cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act for actions resulting in the accidental birth and death of three cubs. The circus’s two tigers — Delia and her brother Solomon — were caged together resulting in the unplanned pregnancy.

The circus was not allowed to exhibit animals for six months in 2011. The big cats now travel separately from each other.

• Between 2012-14 the circus was cited once for failure to produce a written veterinary plan of care for the animals.

• Between 2014-16 the circus had passed all routine and unscheduled inspections for animal welfare.

“They (the cats) are treated very well. I was very up close and personal,” Shepard said. And after being allowed to pet the paw of one of the animals, she said that she was ready to runaway to the circus. 

Running away to the circus doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but it still happens occasionally, said Royla.

“People outside of the circus get interested in it,” he said. “Now there are a number of centers around the country that teach the circus arts.”

Animal and human performers will exhibit their talents in a ring that is 42 feet in diameter that brings the audience close to the action.

“It’s very intimate,” said Royla. “It’s a type of entertainment that appeals to all ages. If you go into the tent, you will often see three generations together all with the same expressions on their faces.”

The public is also invited to “runaway” to the circus every morning at 9:30 a.m. for a free tour of the circus grounds.

“This is an opportunity to watch the tent raising, meet our animals up close and personal, learn about their routine and care and get lots of information about our show’s daily operations,” said Royla.

Large groups that wish to attend the tent raising are asked to contact the circus in advance by calling 1-866-BIGTOP-6.

Kids are encouraged to visit to down load a coloring contest page to complete then bring them to the circus for a chance to win prizes.

“In this day and age, it’s so important for people to experience things live and get away from electronic devices,” said Royla.“Instead of looking down, look up.”

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education

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