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Understanding wild animals

Animal trainer introduces exotic animals to children, families.

Posted: April 21, 2008 12:56 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Cassidy Mellott, 5, watches a Amos the bear cub play on Sunday at the Wildlife Show in Sand Canyon. Amos is a 14-week-old Russian brown bear, who may grow as large as 700 pounds. Other animals who were presented at the Wildlife Show included a mountain lion and a bobcat.

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Residents of Sand Canyon should not have been alarmed when they saw a mountain lion, a Russian brown bear or a bobcat in a backyard of a home on Cliffie Way on Sunday afternoon. Despite recent reports of mountain lion sightings in the area, these exotic wildlife animals were part of a traveling exhibit and invited to the large backyard to put on a show for more than 200 spectators.

Brought to Sand Canyon by Kimberly Sylvester-Malzahn and Jeff Lee, the wildlife show provided attendees, which included over 60 young children, with a first-hand look at animals rarely seen in cities. For more than three years, Sylvester-Malzahn and Lee have hosted wildlife shows at various location throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, traveling with eight to 10 exotic animals and teaching children and adults how to respect and live with the creatures.

Sunday's show was particularly vital in educating the local community on how to co-exist with the exotic animals in light of recent injuries and deaths to domestic animals caused by mountain lions in the area.

Many times, the injuries or deaths are caused by a lack of understanding of the local wildlife instead of an animal's predisposition to attack. Lee and Sylvester-Malzahn pointed out that many of these animals, such as mountain lions and bobcats, are not necessarily predators.

"My intent is to inform the neighborhood," Sylvester-Malzahn said.

"The show is designed to inform and educate my community about co-existing with those who were here before us."

Among the animals that made an appearance at the Sand Canyon residence on Sunday afternoon were a mountain lion, bobcat, Russian brown bear and lemur.

Each animal was individually introduced to the crowd by Lee, a trainer with Steve Martin's Working Wildlife who also appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. With Lee's guidance, several of the children were allowed to pet or play with the animals.

One of the first animals that Lee brought out for the crowd was a mountain lion. With recent reports of mountain lion attacks in the Sand Canyon area, Lee talked to the audience about how to co-exist with the large, exotic animals.

Lee then introduced a fully-grown bobcat, which only weighed 25 pounds and was nine years old, but he said it was one of the toughest cats in the wild.

"Pound for pound they are the toughest cats on Earth," Lee said of bobcats, which is short for bob-tailed cat. "They walk around like they rule the world."

By interacting with a few exotic animals, many of the children felt like they ruled part of the animal world.

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