Animal rescues, pictures, information, and videos make up 90 percent of my sister-in-law Jennifer’s Facebook posts. Volunteering at the Huron Valley Humane Society, she wanted to bring every animal home, but her three cats and her husband (and my brother), Gary, were having none of it. So I knew she would enjoy the Creature Conservancy’s annual fundraiser, Close Encounters, without threatening the peace at home, since the exotic animals there aren’t up for adoption.
The conservancy began when an alligator (who lives there now in his swanky indoor-outdoor swamp) was found in August 2005 at the front door of Animal Kingdom, the vet practice of Vicki Marsh. She and her husband, Steve, who heads the conservancy, took in “Al” and decided to create an exotic animal sanctuary.
Jen and I had purchased our tickets for the festival in advance, which turned out to be a good idea since they sold out quickly. Outdoors and inside campus buildings, volunteers were answering questions about the animals and allowing visitors to hold, pet, and occasionally feed some of them. While I was drawn to the brightly colored macaws on their open-air perches, Jen couldn’t resist accessorizing her sleeve of tattoos with a boa constrictor around her shoulders. We later petted possums and armadillos and made visits to some of the other nearly 400 animals, checking out an owl, two cravens (a cross of crow and raven), and vultures in their aviaries; tortoises, kangaroos, and a wallaby lounging in their spacious pens; and prairie dogs burrowing in and out of tunnels in their glassed-in home. Jen was especially drawn to the reptiles and tarantulas–me, not so much.
Despite the hot and humid September day, kids were joyfully jumping in bounce houses, gleefully getting their faces painted, posing with animals for pictures, and enjoying fair food. We made our way to the Stone Stage building, where most of the seats were taken. Some kids were seated, dangling their legs over the low stone wall near the stage, for Steve’s presentations of Arthur the emu, Poco the sloth, Stinky Pete the skunk, Pebbles the Gila monster, and Bedhead the African crested porcupine. Shrieks of awe and alarm rose when Mango, the twelve-foot albino Burmese python, took the stage. Later, the Columbus Zoo staff brought on their prehensile-tailed palm civet, Toddy, then Halibut the penguin. The audience then received a warning to “keep it quiet” before Elsa, a young snow leopard, and Bibi, a cheetah, were brought to the stage, snacking on meaty tidbits throughout their presentations.
Since last year, the conservancy has built more habitats and displays (one of them for Bedhead and his porcupine pal Lady Gaga) and a gift shop, and has began weekend presentations (see 5 Saturday Events listing). And a cougar cub, Harper, has since joined the conservancy as a permanent resident.
Jen did not sneak out any new friends as we left but instead chose to become a weekly volunteer. (Guapo, one of the macaws, recently adopted Jen as her person.) Look for Guapo and Jen among the crowds at the Close Encounters adult-only benefit on September 11 and the family-friendly festival on September 12 (see 12 Saturday events listing).