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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on February 19, 2001 at 14:19:48:
DESERT SUN (San Bernardino, California) 19 February 01 Reptile exhibit surprising hit with Date Festival fans (Christine Mahr)
Indio: Cecilia Payne summed up her impressions of the exhibit in one abruptly uttered word--"gross."
But the 29-year-old Thermal resident's opinion wasn't shared by most Saturday in the steady stream of kids and adults who visited the reptile exhibit to see, touch and sometimes hold pythons, boa constrictors, lizards, turtles and Big Al, a four-foot-long alligator.
"They're pretty cool," said Payne's 5-year-old daughter, Jessica, as she strolled through the exhibit.
If animals are your thing, there are more than usual at this year's Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival -- from the traditional livestock shows and camel and ostrich races to more recent additions including exotic cat and bear shows and the reptile exhibit.
The attraction, presented by Brad's World Reptiles, introduces fairgoers to about 30 different reptiles and amphibians plus a few tarantulas and other creepy, crawly things.
Based in Corvallis, Ore., the company breeds animals instead of capturing them and maintains a collection of between 500 and 1,000, said Jeremy Magee.
"We do exhibits like this at fairs and school assemblies so people have a chance to be exposed to different kinds of animals," he said.
Magee and Jennifer Meyer, animal science educators, monitor the exhibit, answer questions and take snakes and lizards out of their tanks and pens for people to see up close and touch.
"It makes a big difference for people to touch them and see they're not slimy or aggressive," Magee said.
The attraction earned high marks from fairgoers.
"I like (the exhibit) a lot because it's giving my daughter a chance to see stuff she normally wouldn't see," Jesse Payne, 28, said.
In a comment book, fairgoers wrote, "Coolest thing ever displayed," "Please come back" and "Awesome exhibit."
Octavio DeLaTorre, 13, of Indio, liked the exhibit so much he spent nearly an hour there, touching and holding each animal Magee brought out.
"I'm not afraid of snakes because they're gentle and don't bite," he said as a small python inched its way over his shoulder.
The exhibit also was a fair favorite for Justin Hahn, 6, of La Quinta.
"I like the heaviest one," he said, referring to a Burmese python about 8 feet long.