By Connie Wolfman, SPECIAL TO THE STAR
Thursday, September 7, 2006 1:13 AM PDT
St. Helena, CA
Lions and leopards and lynx — Oh my! Five wild cats made an appearance at Silverado Orchards Retirement Community in St. Helena recently, and 100 senior citizens residing there lived to tell the “tale.”
In fact, five distinctly different cat “tails” emerged, flicking and curling in an impressive array of spots and stripes. One tail even stuck straight up in a short, comical-looking spike on the rump of Oksana the Siberian Lynx.
Wildlife educator Barbara Dicely narrated as each of the five felines made a separate, dramatic entrance into the Silverado Orchards dining room escorted by her husband, Rob Dicely.
The Dicelys are former school teachers who established nonprofit Leopards, Etc. over 16 years ago. It is a traveling classroom with a mission “to increase public awareness of the plight of vanishing wildlife species. . .”
Their 23 wild cats tour with them in shifts as they visit approximately 100 Bay Area schools and numerous private events annually.”
Our cats have raised well over $2 million for various wildlife conservation organizations,” said Rob. “We’re a very small organization, but we pack a hell of a wallop.”
Leopards, Etc. appeared to be packing quite a punch at Silverado Orchards as a crowd of 300 joined the retirement home residents, “oohing and aahing” like it was the Fourth of July.
A King Cheetah named Kgosi is unofficially the biggest star working the Dicely’s catwalk since he served as an model for the movie, The Chronicles of Narnia.
As Kgosi showed off his aerodynamic physique, the Dicelys educated the audience by rattling off a few facts. Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals on earth, able to sprint across six football fields in 30 seconds.”
Try to picture a 90-pound animal coming at you at 70 mph, knowing you have to get it back on the leash,” said Rob as he explained how they exercise their three cheetahs in an open field twice a week.
The crowd laughed, but sobered up quickly when Barbara informed them that cheetahs are an endangered species, numbering only 12,000 worldwide and currently disappearing at the rate of 1,000 per year.
Nakuru the African serval, Shoshone the American mountain lion and Ashakiran the Asian snow leopard completed the one-hour presentation.”
Not exactly something for a spelling bee,” quipped Kerry Baldwin although he has been a longtime supporter of the Dicely’s educational outreach.
His parents, Alan and Sharon Baldwin, have owned Silverado Orchards since 1978. They connected with the Dicelys 15 years ago hoping to provide a little afternoon entertainment for the residents.
After the first successful show, the Baldwins decided to open it up to the community. They now offer two back-to-back performances by Leopards, Etc. every couple of years to accommodate the overflow of ticket requests for the 200 seats in their dining room.
Janet Harrington, 97-year-old resident of the retirement home, invited her grandson to the first wild cat show in 1991.”
He pulled himself under the chairs (of the other guests) up to the front of the room” to get a better look, Harrington laughed. “He’s married now.”
Both senior citizens and kids eagerly scooped up souvenirs after the show which helps the Dicelys to defray their $65,000 yearly cat costs.
“It was cool,” said 11-year-old Katie Sandin leaving with her grandmother Shirley Blomquist and two stuffed leopards perched on her shoulders.”
I was wishing I could pet (one of the wild cats),” said Frances Elliott of Calistoga as she bought three toy cats for her daughters and a leopard print T-shirt for herself.
Resident Judith Laturno smiled as she balanced a tiny plush lion on top of her walker and picked up a boxed supper. On Wild Cat Days at Silverado Orchards, dinner is not served in the dining room.
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