As digital technology continues to improve, the need for animal performers in TV and film slowly declines and that’s a good thing.
If you’re like me, you don’t like seeing animals in cages. Fortunately the laws in California are fairly strict about keeping exotic animals and even though I’m against the practice, I was impressed by how clean the grounds were at Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife facility in Frazier Park, CA.
Steve Martin (the one who trains wild animals not the wild and crazy one) has over 48 years of experience in applied animal behavior, handling, training and exposure to all types of exotic species from various countries throughout the world.
He maintains an accident free record and there has never been an incident where property, personnel or the public has been injured or damaged in any way under his or his staff’s supervision.
I’ve been on quite a few tours of animal sanctuaries over the years and this facility was rather impressive.
Working Wildlife is located two hours north of Los Angeles and sits on 62 acres in Lockwood Valley near the mountain community of Frazier Park.
Former punk rocker, Jeff Lee is Steve Martin’s nephew. He’s been working with the animals since 1984 and currently works as the Educational Program Director at Working Wildlife.
He’s in charge of giving tours of the facility and doing educational outreach to schools and other organizations that desire a more up close and hands on experience with these wonderful creatures.
Working Wildlife specializes in over 100 unique “animal actors” and includes everything from A to Z [alligators to zebras].
The love between Taj the brown lemur and Jeff couldn’t be denied.
Using only positive reinforcement training methods, the bond between trainer and animal is strong.
Taj’s eyes were hypnotic.
He has appeared in numerous commercials and movies but does his best work by being one of the top members of Working Wildlife’s educational outreach program.
This baby alligator which was recently rescued was super cute…
…but like most of the other exotic animals they work with, these creatures are still wild at heart and can still do a lot of damage if they wanted to.
The best evidence of how they treat the animals in their care was to see how healthy a parrot named Red Woman appeared when she came out to meet us. Parrots in captivity often hurt themselves and even start plucking out their own feathers under stressful conditions. Red Woman’s beautiful plumage showed no such signs of any stress related issues and that’s hard to find with parrots in captivity.
One of my favorite little critters was Boris, the prehensile-tailed porcupine.
Smaller than the North American varieties, Boris was quite charming and very entertaining to watch.
He LOVED his pretzels.
There was no denying that Jeff loved these animals and there was no better evidence of that than when he brought out Ninja, the Southeast Asian Binturong which is also known as a bearcat.
Jeff hand raised Ninja when she was just a baby and the bond between the two was undeniable.
Ninja on the catwalk.
The binturong is a monotypic genus and its genus name Arctictis means ‘bear-weasel’, from Greek arkt- ‘bear’ + iktis ‘weasel’. The feet are five-toed, with large strong claws.
Spirit & Storm (not pictured), are the full grown adult resident cougars at Working Wildlife. Meow!
Kenya & Shiva are the “Queens of the Jungle” and have appeared in such blockbusters as Water for Elephants, Clan of the Cave Bear and Noah’s Ark.
Then there’s Maasai the gorgeous African lion…
…who may be younger and less experienced than some of the other lions but still gets booked on plenty of jobs.
Just make sure the trainer is nearby cause this big boy could really do some damage if he wanted to.
While the big cats are always impressive to see, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting extremely up close and personal with a giant bear. Amos is the king of bears.
He’s a Syrian brown bear who weighs in at approx. 575lbs.
And then there’s Tag…
…he’s a Kodiak Brown Bear who could end up weighing 1400-1600lbs and stand between 7′-8′ tall when he’s fully grown.
I didn’t know what to expect before taking the tour of Working Wildlife. While I’m still not entirely comfortable with animals being caged or used for entertainment purposes, I was relieved to see that the they all appeared to be healthy and well taken care of. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that like many sanctuaries, they don’t purchase their animals from breeders, and they don’t breed the animals. Jeff even mentioned that they might even be getting out of the movie business altogether and are looking at creating a sanctuary in Northern Oregon where these working animals, who have spent a large portion of their lives entertaining us, can finally go to retire for good.