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Baby tiger photo ops at Ill. county fair

DECATUR – While their tricks can be entertaining, these animals have a few things they’d like to teach people.

Lions, tigers and bears are the featured exhibits at the 2007 Decatur-Macon County Fair, aiming to raise awareness and funds for mistreated animals.

The Great Cat Adventure and The Great Bear Show are performing four daily educational performances with their rescued animals.

The Great Cat Adventure has nine cats on display for the week of the fair. The cats include three baby tigers with which visitors can have their picture taken.

Three Bengal tigers – there are only 200 in the world – and a lion, puma and leopard, all have been rescued, said Heidi Nelson. The cats come from people who kept them as pets or bought them illegally on the Internet.

The cats range from 10 weeks to 10 months old, Nelson said. Once the cats are adults, they live in the rescue center in Oklahoma. Shows are 3:30, 6 and 8 p.m.

“A wild animal is never tame,” Nelson said. “These are just babies; they don’t know right from wrong yet.”

The cats are fed more than 5,000 pounds of raw chicken every year. Their caretaker, Bruce “Bengal” Williams, loves the cats and will even kiss their faces.

“They are laid back and let us go in. We are just careful,” he said.

The Great Bear Show has been around since 1977. Show Owner Bob Steele said wild animal training has run in his family for generations.

The shows being put on at the fair are based on the animal’s well-being and teach the public what to do if they encounter a bear in the wild as well as a few tricks the bears know.

Steele brought Jack, Cindy, and Andy, who are full-grown adult North American black bears that weigh more than 400 pounds. They also brought what Steele thinks will be the hit of the fair: Cindy’s two 10-month-old cubs.

Steele owns a 200-acre preserve where the bears live. He takes in bears that have been kept as pets or mistreated.

“Bears are the only animal that can be readjusted to the wild at all,” Steele said.

The preserve is not subsidized by the government, so he does the shows to educate the public, and they pay for the bears to have a better life. The shows are at 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Today’s schedule

8 a.m.: Market lambs, open class and junior sheep judging

9 a.m.: Open dairy cattle and junior dairy cattle

9 a.m.: Textiles and needle arts judging

9 a.m.: Junior rabbit judging

11 a.m.: antiques judging

1:30, 5:30 p.m.: Loghoggers, chainsaw sculpting

2:30, 5, 7 p.m.: The Great Bear Show

3:30, 6, 8 p.m.: Great Cat Adventure

6:15 p.m.: Bingo, Pride of Prairie Bldg.

6:30 p.m.: Tractor pull, grandstand

Nicole Milstead–;can be reached at–;nmilstead@herald-review.com or 421-6977.

http://www.herald-review.com/articles/2007/ 06/15/news/local_news/1024163.txt

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