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Exotic critters at county fair show
Click here to see full schedule of entertainment at the 2011 Yuma County Fair
If you dare to do it, Karla Majewski will let you touch a scorpion.
Not too worry too much, though. While its large glossy black body and its hefty pinchers may give it a menacing look, the African Emperor scorpion's venom is relatively harmless, she says.
And they happen to have docile natures — so docile that they are popular among some pet owners.
If you can't bring yourself to touch Majewski's scorpion, maybe you'd like to have your picture taken with a python or a boa constrictor.
Or meet Mojo, her capuchin monkey.
All these characters play key roles in Majewski's mission to connect humans and animals in an act made up of equal parts entertainment value and educational value.
Majewski will make the connection in Yuma this month when she brings Pacific Animal Productions to the Yuma County Fair for daily performances of exhibits of not just Mojo, the scorpion and the snakes, but a bearded dragon, other reptiles, tropical birds and kangaroo, plus another species she said is most unique among the animal menagerie: a binaturong from Southeast Asia.
She will showcase the animals in exhibits open throughout the course of each day of the county fair Tuesday through Sunday, as well as stage them in scheduled performances twice on weekdays and three times daily during the weekends in the fairgrounds' Theatre Building.
This will be the first visit to Yuma for Pacific Animal Production, a Fallbrook, Calif.-based, family-owned enterprise that travels around the western United States to education people about wildlife.
What separates Pacific from a traditional zoo is the opportunity for a closeup view with the animals that Majewski brings to each appearance, she said.
“Where do you get an African Emperor scorpion you can interact with? So it's really unique.”
The scorpion will be one of the species in the touch tank, where fairgoers will be able to touch them. And an upclose encounter with the African Emperor scorpion, one of the largest in the world, is “pretty memorable,” she said.
If the scorpion is memorable, the binaturong will be unique to fairgoers, given that is found only the wilds of Southeast Asia and not very often even there. At 45 pounds in weight, Pacific's binaturong looks something like a cross between a bear and an otter, she said.
Depending on the times they arrive, fairgoers might not see it at the height of its activity.
“They're nocturnal and will be sleeping during a lot of times during the fair. But (fairgoers) will still get a closer look than you'll ever see anywhere else.”
Pacific's performances enlists members of the audience as “volunteers” together with Mojo and other animals in acts that offer “a little bit of a surprise for everyone.”
Majewski and her staff mix humor and entertainment in their appearances to keep the public audiences of all ages engaged in learning about wildlife, she said.
“We get a lot of kids. The 4-H kids really like it. Moms like it. It's free to the family. They'll spend a lot of time looking, so they're learning something and it's free.”
That is, fairgoers get in to see the Pacific animal exhibits and acts for price of admission to the fair itself.
“They are welcome to bring cameras and take pictures,” she said, and Pacific's staff will be eager to answer any questions about the animals.
Majewski, her husband, Mike, and sons, Derek and Tim, live on four acres in Fallbrook that they share with more than 200 exotic animals, most of which have been donated by zoos or individuals who owned them as pets, legally or otherwise.
Pacific rotates the animals in out-of-town appearances, so that no single one is on the road all of the time, she said.
Pacific Animal Productions started out in 1987 as a departure from Majewski's original dream of becoming a veterinarian.
Having graduated from Moorpark College in Los Angeles with a degree in exotic animal training and wildlife management, she developed an interest in working with big cats, which led to a job at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, where her duties included hosting elephant, bird and North American animal shows.
In starting Pacific Animal Productions, she recalled, she found her niche: connecting people with animals.
Even if connecting doesn't include handling a scorpion.