Branson entertainer, Kirby VanBurch, recently announced a change of venue but his tigers won't be joining him. The last of his large cats were moved to the National Tiger Sanctuary - a nonprofit organization that specializes in exotic animals that have been in private hands.
VanBurch says while he isn't retiring, as some reports had stated, he says it’s time for his cats to.
The relocation of the animals follows both his recent announcement to host shows at "Lodge of the Ozarks," and also recent pressure put on him by the USDA.
Mike Murtaugh has handled VanBurch’s cats though hundreds of shows, and while he was emotional during the final move, he didn't hesitate to help.
"Because I know they're going to be cared for," says Murtaugh, "I know they're going to be loved."
Murtaugh says he pushed for "Precious," the tiger, and VanBurch’s other cats to be taken to the National Tiger Sanctuary in Saddlebook.
"I wanted to be close to them, they're like my kids," says Murtaugh, who has been handling VanBurch’s cats for 14 years.
"With Kirby changing theaters, he didn't have a spot for them," says National Tiger Sanctuary Caretaker, Keith Kinkade. "[VanBurch] had a little pressure from the USDA... and getting some pressure from the state."
From May of 2011 to June of 2013, VanBurch was sighted by the USDA for violations for the care he provided for his show tigers. Violations regarding Veterinary care, unsafe and small holding areas, diet and cleanliness.
Kinkade says it will cost the National Tiger Sanctuary roughly 25-thousand dollar a year to care for the exotic animals.
"If they hadn't had Mike with them, I'm not sure all of them would have survived," says Kinkade.
The 600 square foot cages the tigers are currently being held in, are only temporary according to Kinkade. He says when the tigers are ready they will be moved to new homes that will be close to 10-thousand square feet in size.
"It's like going to camp as a kid, it can be different," says Kinkade, "some can do real great and have a lot of fun, and others it just takes longer."
Kinkade says it can take tigers months to get fully acclimated to their new environment, but he says the moving process was made considerably easier because of Murtaugh’s presence.
"They're in a good home," says Murtaugh, "They haven't been outside since they were just babies, so they'll have sunlight, fresh air, chase birds, bugs, be a tiger."
VanBurch’s publicist emailed KOLR 10 News a press release regarding the move of the cats, and VanBurch’s upcoming show inside the "Lodge of the Ozarks."
"I know that some folks may have heard that I was retiring but with the new location allowing me to do up close and personal magic, I decided that wasn't what I wanted to do. However it is time for my cats to retire," says VanBurch. "They've been great participants in our award-winning magic show and while touring Branson has been a trip; I think they're ready for some relaxation."
VanBurch also says he will be encouraging audience members, at his new venue, to go see his cats at the National Tiger Sanctuary.