This year’s ‘fairly’ new attractions

Sam L. Jaime, Reporter

Nestled just inside the Union Avenue entrance along a paved path marked Grand Avenue, an Egyptian-themed sand sculpture sat outside of a large tent, beckoning Kern County Fair patrons to enter.

Inside, a decorative backdrop hung along the walls, wrapping around the entire exhibit. In front of those backdrops were cages, featuring African-themed wildlife. As visitors ventured through the exhibit, they were able to take a close look at a sleeping vervet monkey, an African fox looking out from his bedding, and an emperor scorpion waving its stinger toward them.

There were two plated lizards sleeping alongside each other, seemingly oblivious, while the tarantula in the habitat adjacent attempted to disguise itself within the similarly-colored contents on the habitat’s floor. On the opposite side of a large bust of a golden sarcophagus in the exhibit’s center, a live corn snake found safety in numbers despite its habitat companions being comprised of rubber snakes.

Toward the rear of the exhibit, just beyond a sleeping, uncaged Swainson’s hawk, visitors formed a line for a chance to experience the most interactive portion of the exhibit. In a hexagonal terrarium, an African hedgehog made its rounds as visitors were invited to gently touch the spines protruding from its back. Beside the terrarium, an attendant named Matthew held another African hedgehog, asking visitors if they wanted to hold the tiny mammal. Matthew said, “It makes me happy to see how the kids react, just to see the excitement and smiles on their faces, it really makes it fun for me, too.”

Matthew said it was a “harder sell” to get some of the adults to hold the hedgehog, as most seemed to equate the hedgehog’s spines to the quills of a porcupine.

A few hundred feet from the exit of the Egyptian Wildlife Exhibit, a semi-truck and trailer was parked in the grass along a stretch marked KC Loop. From the trailer’s side, a large awning-like tent covered a section of approximately 70 seats. Speakers on both sides of the tent played the “Jaws” theme as a panel measuring roughly 20 feet by three feet, rose to reveal four nurse sharks swimming in a tank. While most of the sharks seemed to only measure as long as three or four feet in length, one of the sharks was considerably larger, appearing to be at least seven feet long.

The show’s host emerged from the trailer and introduced the show. He asked for a young volunteer to attempt to “bang” on the glass to show the strength of the tank. This turned out to be a comical trick on the young boy chosen, as when he struck the glass, the host covertly turned on a knob from another part of the tank’s lining, sending a stream of water into the first few rows of the crowd. The host then asked if the young volunteer would like to swim with the sharks. When the boy accepted, the host handed him a wetsuit on a clothes-hanger that was missing a shark bite-shaped section in the torso, painted to appear as blood.

The host then entered the tank to swim with the sharks, who appeared disinterested in his presence. Despite the build-up, including the theme music, the interaction between the host and sharks seemed to lack any sense of danger. When the host finished his performance, he closed the show, inviting the audience to take a closer look at the tank from behind a rope placed in front of the tank. He then fed the sharks some fish, and exited for the night. Among those who took a closer look was Walker, 15, who said, “It’s so cool being able to see a shark up close, I never thought I would be able to see a shark in Bakersfield.”

Others weren’t as impressed. Romero Vargas, 20, said, “I don’t know why they tried to make this seem scary, nothing really happened. I wish they would have made it more about learning about the sharks, rather than hyping-up that this dude swam with them.”

Similarly, Lucia, a 42-year old teacher from Tehachapi, said, “I don’t understand why they felt the need to play the scary music and hand that boy that suit. I think it was a missed opportunity to educate these people on an endangered species.” The Nurse shark is not currently on any known endangered species list, and should not be confused with the Gray Nurse shark.

Farther down along the KC Loop, was the All-Star Stunt Dog Challenge. Behind a large RV and tent, a ten-yard patch of grass displayed a series of obstacles, including a suspended hoop, a tunnel, and hurdles. The show consisted of five dogs performing stunts, such as a timed obstacle course that had competitors such as Super Freak, a border collie, racing through a slalom, leaping through a suspended hoop, going through a plastic tunnel, over two hurdles, retrieve a tennis ball, come back over the hurdles, again through the tunnel, and catch a Frisbee to finish.

Other performers such as Tasmanian Tex, a Texas healer, participated in a high jump competition, reaching a height of 52 inches. In the show’s finale, Cricket, a Boston terrier-pug mix, leapt onto the back of one of the show’s hosts, and sat on her hind legs.

Cricket then balanced on the host’s palms, performing a hand stand to a loud cheer from the audience. The event, hosted by Stunt Dogs Productions, consisted entirely of rescued and adopted dogs who were owned by the show’s hosts. The hosts encouraged the audience to “check with local adoption agencies and rescue centers.”