MARIPOSA COUNTY — At a secluded cattle ranch outside Mariposa, mama cows bawl for their calves in a nearby corral while a wolf plays on a rock outcropping in the bright green hills of spring.
Every once in a while, the wolf pauses on a rock and stares toward the corralled black cows. But then this tundra carnivore puts his focus back on his best friend.
That's Logan Saich, 25, who's been working with animals since he was a kid.
He grew up overseas, living in such places as Pakistan, Singapore and Saudi Arabia. He traveled with his parents, who taught school all over the world.
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As a child, when it was his birthday, Saich didn't ask for the toys or games that most children want. He asked to see camels and elephants and monkeys, and to get as close as he could to those animals.
Saich works for Triple D Game Farm, an outfit from Kalispell, Mont., that provides wild animals for photography and cinematography.
For owner Jay Deist and the trainer, the business is all about the animals.
Saich, a quiet man who still looks like a teenager, has worked for the farm for four years. He considers the animals his best friends.
"Working with wild animals is so different from domesticated," Saich said. "You have to study their behavior.
"A lot of people think wolves and dogs are similar," he said. "In reality they are different. A lot different."
Deist said the animals at the game farm are all captive-bred, and providing them for people to photograph and film keeps their kin in the wild safe from their biggest enemy — man. "We have a lot of visitors who don't know the difference between a wolf and a coyote," Deist said.
"The only other place they could see these animals is probably in a zoo."
As a forest ranger in Montana, Deist said he saw some of the stupid things that people do with wild animals, such as hold a baby up next to a buffalo to get a photograph. Shaking his head, Deist said he stresses to everyone that people should leave animals in the wild alone.
"A lot of people get to observe the nature of these animals we have and learn about animals they would never see in the wild," Deist said.
Unlike a zoo, the animals at the game farm are trained to eventually be outside, under the control of Saich. Although there's always a fence around the perimeter of where the animals are working, the fence couldn't hold the 350-pound grizzly bear if she decided to leave.
Safety is No. 1 at the farm and at workshops. "Of course, we keep the photographers safe, along with the animals," Deist said.
Although he's worked with lynx, bear and foxes, Saich said, he has never been seriously hurt.
"I've gotten a few nips," Saich said. "But they were always my fault, not the animal's."
On Thursday, in a misty drizzle of rain, Saich brought out two tundra wolves, two coyotes and a Siberian lynx for the workshop attendees to photograph.
When the lynx, named Toby, came out the photographers got a warning from Deist.
"Now Toby likes to see photographers' eyes get really big," Deist said. "He'll run right at you. Just ignore him."
When the 65-pound cat came near the natural rock outcropping, he looked around, saw the photographers and bounded toward them. "He's playing," Deist said. "He loves to do this."
After trying to scare the photographers, Toby looked for Saich. The man patted a rock and showed Toby the lynx's favorite toy — a piece of deer hide.
Toby headed for the rocks, and everyone gasped when they saw how easily the lynx used his huge feet to climb eight feet in a couple of seconds.
As cameras clicked furiously, Deist watch Saich work with Toby. "It's pretty special when you know how Toby reacts to Logan," Deist said. "You can tell they're friends."
Best friends, according to Saich. When asked which animal is his favorite, he thought for a minute, then smiled.
"I have a favorite in every species," Saich said. "How many people can say one of their best friends is a wolf?"
On the Net: www.tripledgamefarm.com.