Big cats keep Peninsula kids on toes
By Todd R. Brown, STAFF WRITER
MILLBRAE — Keep it down to a dull roar in there.
That was fitting advice Wednesday afternoon at the Millbrae Library, where five big cats prowled and growled in front of about 80 children and their parents.
But it was the kids who were the loudest animals there.
"Ooh!" they gasped, as Nakuru, a 10-year-old serval cat, jumped eight feet into the air to capture his prey — a piece of chicken on a stick.
"Oh!" the crowd howled as the African cougar made another sprightly try.
"Hiss!" Nakuru said to the less-than-instinctively-stealthy news photographer snapping away at him.
Not all the cats were so touchy about their onlookers. Oksana, a 12-year-old Siberian lynx, seemed more interested in peering at the brightly lit ceiling and lapping at her front paws.
But the bobcat’s apparent indifference wasn’t enough to allay some human observers’ ancient fears of the predators.
"I was a little horrified. They were growling and licking," said Anne Taylor, who brought her three children from St. Robert School in San Bruno to view the critters. "But it was really fun."
The one-hour program was led by Rob and Barbara Dicely. They operate "Leopards, Etc." out of the town of Occidental in Sonoma County and have done big-cat educational outreach for 16 years.
The couple has 23 cats they get from zoos and breeding facilities as babies. The cats grow to about 100 pounds, which the couple said is the upper limit for manageability.
"We don’t have jaguars or pretty much anything over a hundred pounds," said Rob Dicely, 60. "I weigh 200 pounds. A cat that’s a hundred pounds or so, I can physically pick it up and move it somewhere.
"A 400-pound lion — there’s not much I can do if it wants to do something."
Lauren Kawano, 6, of Millbrae said her favorite feline visitor was 7-year-old Kgosi, a king cheetah.
"Can you tell?" said her mother, Dianne Tong, pointing to Lauren’s cheetah-spotted skirt and matching socks.
"This is real educational," Tong said. "It’s more than you see at the zoo."
The Dicelys also brought 2-year-old mountain lion Shoshone, whose habitat once ranged from Canada to South America and led different Indian tribes to give it a variety of names, including cougar and puma. They are still found on the Peninsula.
The couple also brought 12-year-old African leopard Umfazi, which, pound-for-pound, is the strongest type of big cat.
Its relative, the snow leopard, is also the most endangered; Barbara Dicely estimated there are 3,000 to 5,000 left in the Himalayas. She said there are still about 12,000 African cheetahs but that farmers and ranchers kill about a thousand a year to protect their livestock.
"It’s kind of sad," said Anne Taylor’s daughter Lauren, 10, of the cats’ fate. "They’re really pretty and stuff."
The Dicelys’ cats were headed next to the Brisbane Library on Wednesday night and to the Half Moon Bay Library at 2:30 p.m. today.
The visits are part of the San Mateo County Library’s Summer Reading Program, titled "Paws, Claws, Scales and Tales" and focusing on educating kids about animals.
Just to set the record straight, Barbara Dicely said Kgosi the cheetah wasn’t really growling — he was purring.
Dicely said she likes to tell people, "My cat can purr louder than your cat."
Learn more about "Leopards, Etc." online at http://web.archive.org/web/20090615213748/http://www.leopardsetc.com:80/.
Staff writer Todd R. Brown covers Brisbane, Colma, Daly City, Millbrae, San Bruno and South San Francisco. Reach him at (650) 348-4473 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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