Saturday, September 16, 2006
TJ GREANEY ~ Southeast Missourian
Children can get up close and personal with rabbits, tigers and wallabies.
For some exhibitors at the SEMO District Fair, sparking children’s interest in wildlife is the goal.
“Critter” Chris Moss is the ringleader of a magic show known as Tropical Illusions. During Moss’ three daily performances, doves turn into rabbits, a canary crows like a rooster and paper snakes explode from a wicker basket. But his wild and rollicking show wasn’t always this way.
“Up until five years ago we had all that chrome and glitter of a Las Vegas act,” said Moss, who hails from Oklahoma and performs at fairs, conferences and churches from April to October every year. “But for some reason, there was this glass wall up between me and the audience. It was all about me being up on stage. So I wanted to do something that had more of a positive message that made people feel connected.”
Moss said he wanted a show where magic gets children hooked and the substance leaves parents happy. “I like to call it edu-tainment,” he said.
This style was on display when he brought out Twinkles, an English Angora rabbit whose fluffy white fur looks like something Jim Henson might have dreamed up.
Moss explained that Twinkles’ white hair can be combed out and used to make sweaters. He said this use is safe for the rabbits and actually serves to keep them cool during summer months.
But just to make sure everyone paid attention, Moss shot a stream of water on the children sitting in the front rows. For comic effect, Moss acted like Twinkles had just tinkled on them. Moss says it might seem silly, but the shrieks and smiles on the children’s faces are proof that this was a show they wouldn’t soon forget.
“We want kids to hold onto that sense of wonder they experience when they see the natural world,” he said.
At another exhibit, children get the chance to get up close and personal with some even wilder animals. Woody’s Menagerie has creatures ranging from baby grizzly bears and tigers all the way to wallabies, bison and dwarf deer. Visitors can pet and feed most of the animals.
Six-year-old twins Ireland and Rhaegan Lloyd were brave enough to try to tame the tiger. The children, who are animal enthusiasts, paid to have a picture taken with the cub. They said they can’t decide if they want to be zoo keepers, veterinarians or animal rescue officers when they grow up.
“I really like tigers. They’re my favorite animal,” Rhaegan said. And posing for the picture she proved it by giving the cub a kiss on the nose. The tiger squealed and showed its teeth, but this was no biggy for the future naturalist. “He’s just being a grumpy tiger,” she said.
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