LUMBERTON — Georgina Donoho and her husband Vincent von Duke encountered a problem while trying to get their lion to pose for pictures on Wednesday — Mofasa’s playfulness.
“Mo, you’re being a bugger,” Donoho said as Mo ran around the enclosed stage after being released from his pen.
Mo won’t be able to avoid the public eye starting Friday, as he and eight other lions and tigers — about 2 tons of wild — perform for spectators during “Close Encounters of the Exotic Kind” at the Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair.
Across the field from the cats will be the Barnyard Review, a childrens’ show and new attraction to the fair. Both shows will run all nine days of the fair.
The animal show is making its third appearance in Robeson County after debuting at the 2011 county fair.
“I guess we were really popular last year, so they asked us back,” Donoho said.
Donoho said she and von Duke make their shows informative and fun.
“We do an educational program — where the animals were born, the difference between lions and tigers, what they eat …,” she said. “Then they come out and put on a show. There are a lot of laughs in the show and they will jump through a fire hoop.”
Spectators can feed a lion or tiger for $3 or two for $5 after the show. All proceeds benefit the animals.
Donoho said she and von Duke own four lions and five tigers, including a white tiger named Kaya. All of the cats were born and raised in the United States.
“They were bottle-fed babies,” she said. “To us, we are Mom and Dad. Chi Chi [a lioness] grew up in our house. She slept in the bed with Vincent and me.”
Donoho said each cat eats 20 to 30 pounds of food per day, including beef and chicken. Despite living a captive-bred life, the cats claw onto the hunter’s instincts they were born with.
“You’ve got to remember that they’ve been on this Earth a lot longer than we have,” Donoho said as Chi Chi squatted on all fours and glared while two maintenance men sprayed pesticides near the stage. “They don’t lose their instincts. They know exactly what they’re doing at all times.”
Donoho is the sixth generation of her family to work in the entertainment business. Her ancestors owned the Scott Family Circus in England and performed horse shows during the 19th century.
“My great-great-great-grandfather performed for Queen Victoria in 1800 in Windsor Castle,” Donoho said.
She said she and von Duke take their show around the eastern United States as well as Maine, Ohio and Michigan, but rising fuel costs are making travel more difficult.
“It costs $800 to $1,000 to fill up the truck,” she said.
Despite the financial pressure, Donoho said she and her husband invest their lives in their profession.
“This is not a job,” she said. “It’s a lifestyle. We live it, we breathe it, we never leave. It’s like any business. There’s good and bad in everything.”
Amanda Stifler hopes to attract similar-sized crowds to the Barnyard Review, which she said combines music, magic, comedy and art in an agricultural theme.
She and her friend and business partner, Zach Asiago, each play two characters. Asiago plays Farmer Zach and Elvis Holstein, a rock-and-roll cow. Stifler plays Farmer Zach’s “silly sidekick” Miss Amanda and Hammy Faye, a ballerina pig.
“It’s been out since July 19,” Stifler said. “We started in Nebraska and worked our way down.”
Stifler said she and Asiago will travel to the Columbus County Agriculture Fair in Whiteville after the Robeson County fair ends. She said they wanted to create a show that aligns with fair-goers’ mindsets.
“We wanted something to cater to … the agricultural areas we go to,” she said. “The fairs want something that they understand.”
Fair-goers can buy a Barnyard Review coloring book for $1 after the show.
The fair opens on Friday and runs through Oct. 12. “Close Encounters of the Exotic Kind” and the Barnyard Review will each perform two shows on weekdays and three shows on weekends. To view the full fair schedule, go to www.robesoncountyfair.com.