June 14, 2013

Wallaby on the lam corralled by deputies at fair

The badge on Denver Boyer’s chest says “Pony Wrangler,” but maybe "Wallaby Wrangler" would be more fitting -- at least this week.

The 44-year-old from Medford, Ore., is co-owner of the Great American Petting Zoo, which is in town for the Merced County Fair. Boyer found himself chasing Kit, a 2-year-old wallaby, Wednesday at the Merced County Fairgrounds. "This was opening day; not very long after opening,” Boyer said, recounting the wallaby's escape Wednesday. The tractor parade, which makes its rounds every day, passes directly in front of the petting zoo. Boyer didn't actually see the moment Kit made a break for it, but he speculates she got spooked by the noise and squeezed through the holes in the pen.

"She’s small enough that she can fit through the squares (in the pen) if she's scared," he said. "I mean, she has to be pretty scared to do it but, obviously, she can." That's when the Merced County Sheriff’s Department leapt into action. Deputy Delray Shelton, Sheriff’s spokesman, said Sheriff Mark Pazin and Sgt. Kevin Blake happened to see the animal loose on the fairgrounds and quickly surrounded her.

Shelton said animal calls are not uncommon in farm-heavy Merced County but a wallaby, "that's not an everyday call."

"It kind of breaks the monotony of traditional crime," he said.

Boyer described Kit’s temperament to that of a cat -- she sometimes shows affection and other times keeps her distance. He said she quickly calmed down after being corralled and was not injured.

Wallabies are cousins to kangaroos, and look similar but are smaller. They are native to Australia.

European and domestic animals also make up the petting zoo, which has about 40 animals including goats, ducks, miniature donkeys, fallow deer and an alpaca, to name a few.

Though the "wallaby chase" is not a daily show, there are many exhibits featured through the weekend.

Concerts on the Outdoor Theater stage this weekend include a Saturday show from Evolution: The Ultimate Tribute to Journey and a Sunday concert from Korina Lopez, who sings the music of Sinaloa, Mexico. Each show begins at 8:30 p.m.

Marketing Manager Diane Conway said the staff won't know until after all the tickets are counted how well attended the fair has been this year. However, she said it seems good. "Weather is always a deciding factor," Conway said, adding weather so far has been "gorgeous."

This time last year, attendance was up until a heat wave swept through the weekend, she said. Of course, Conway said, the weather is uncontrollable but will make all the difference.

Along with welcoming weather, the fair's theme of "Thank You, Veterans" has been successful. Veterans and families of those in the service have voiced their appreciation of the nod, Conway said.

"I cannot tell you, and I’m not exaggerating, how many people have come up and told me," she said. The fairgrounds are decorated with red, white and blue displays, and the exhibit halls feature video and photographic tributes to soldiers.

For sports fans, Saturday offers Humpz & Hornz bull riding at 7 p.m., and Sunday features Gran Jaripeo y Variedad with El Puma de Sinaloa, a rodeo and variety show, at 4 p.m. The grandstands are home to those events.

Auctions, puzzles, hypnotism, ventriloquism, magic, art, garden shows and the tractor parade are planned for this weekend.

Sunday also offers several Latin dance and musical numbers.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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