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Humans perform stunts for beasts at Shambala

Posted: March 30, 2008 1:42 a.m.
Updated: May 31, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Barbara Morteson, of Palm Springs, receives helps from aerialist Maximiliano Torandell during the Cirque Du Shambala on Saturday at the animal reserve near Acton.

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The Shambala Preserve in Acton reinvented an old favorite when they held a circus just for the wild animals during Saturday's first Cirque du Shambala at the wild animal sanctuary.

The afternoon circus, which raised money for the preserve, featured performances by members of the Hollywood Aerial Artists, who demonstrated their skills on stilts, silks and hoops.

After showing off their talents at stations set up around various parts of the preserve - currently home to around 70 lions, tigers, bobcats and panthers - the aerial artists invited the guests to learn how to perform their eye-catching stunts.

Tippi Hedren, president of the Roar Foundation and director of Shambala, watched as a woman learned how to perform tricks on a giant round hoop as the cages of the wild cats dotted the background.

"All the animals are watching," said Hedren, an actress and conservationist. "They're the honored guests of the circus," adding that that's the way it should be.

Catherine Shultz, chairwoman of Cirque du Shambala, was surprised by the amount of people who wanted to volunteer to try out the aerial stunts. The first ever event served as a "learning experience," she said, and is something she'd like to do again.

Cirque du Shambala is one of the many fundraisers held by the Roar Foundation, which maintains Shambala. The Acton preserve, in operation since 1972, serves as a exotic animal habitat where wild cats will live for the rest of their lives. To maintian it, the organization has to raise $1 million a year.

The roughly 100 guests at Cirque du Shambala, which included actresses Lily Tomlin and Lindsay Wagner, at the afternoon circus spent their time watching the performers.

Two of the spectators were Susan Johnson and Ann Pfohl, both Shambala volunteers. With most circuses, people will watch animals. But for Cirque du Shambala, the hope was that the animals would watch the people, making a "funny twist on a tradition," Pfohl said.

Johnson's husband, Bob, noted the pre-serve's environment, surrounded by rolling hills and even has the occasional view and sound of a train passing on the distant railroad tracks. "It reminds me of Africa," he said.

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