For magician Kirby VanBurch, performing with large cats was all he knew.
"It's just rewarding and it became addictive. They were like my family," said VanBurch.
For years he dazzled audiences with the help of lions, tigers, and leopards, but during the summer of 2014 that came to an abrupt end.
"When I moved from the 248 location to Music City I was promised a habitat for the animals. And the habitat was never built and it was too late to go back to the other theater," VanBurch explained.
While in transition the animals were kept in temporary habitats which didn't comply with the United States Department of Agriculture regulations.
"There wasn't time to find a new investor, there wasn't time to build a new habitat for the animals. The right thing to do was to find them immediate relief," said VanBurch.
And they got that relief at the National Tiger Sanctuary, located about 15 miles North of Branson.
"[We received a] black Panther, spotted leopard, orange tiger, and two white tigers. They were in the Kirby VanBurch show," said Keith Kinkade , Co-Founder of the National Tiger Sanctuary in Chestnutridge,Missouri.
With the recent donation the sanctuary now is home to 27 large cats. Taking on five extras is no cheap endeavor.
"We'll have to spend another 100,000 to build them new habitats plus it takes about 5,000 a year to take care of a cat. They are getting to be older cats so the cost of veterinary care and food [can be expensive]. These cats can eat about 10 to 15 pounds of raw meat per day," Kinkade said.
There's also a time consuming re-assimilation process.
"These cats lived indoors so they didn't get the sunlight, they didn't get the rain or bugs. It's a lot different," said Kinkade.
"These current habitats are about 3 times bigger than what they're used to and that lets them start adjusting. Then they'll eventually go into a 5 to 10,000 square foot habitat which is considerably larger," he added.
Once cats are sent to the tiger sanctuary they're there for the rest of their lives. And many agree, that's a good thing.
"It's hard to talk about. I loved those guys and it became the right decision at the right time," said VanBurch.
"I can't think of another place that would be better for them. Now they're near me and I can go visit them," he added.
He says his new act is smaller and more intimate, but not dramatically different from what he was doing before. VanBurch had been gradually phasing the animals out of his performance for years.
VanBurch is currently performing at "The Club" at Lodge of The Ozarks.