After a little more playtime with Cody, Sid informed me that he was going to bring up one of the cats. This was just a wee bit unexpected. Here I thought I was only going to get to interact with a chimp or two, but sure enough, up the hill came Sid with a beautiful male African lion and it was heading our way. Most people only see these animals in zoos, but there it was, right in front of me, no cage keeping it from pouncing on me, just a leash and a good mood on the lion’s part.
Sid assures me that there’s really nothing to worry about. “Hand gets stuck in their mouth…no big deal. They’re all taught to soft-bite. Not that they always do. Piss them off and you’ll see what a lion can do. Like if you were to grab their balls or something.”
Being that I had no intention of grabbing any balls that afternoon, be they human or animal, I kneeled down next to the massive cat to pet it with very little worry about having a chunk taken out of me.
“Always stay to the side of him,” Sid warned as I took my place next to the lion. “The trainer’s always watching his face and back legs. Those back legs tuck up underneath him, he’s gonna get up real fast. But like this, you have a second. I can grab you and get you out of the way if you’re in trouble.” So much for no worries.
“This is my favorite of all the animals – the male African lion,” Sid gushed. “People can’t believe that the chimps aren’t, but the chimps are like my human kids. The chimps I accept as humans, so I don’t even consider them as animals.”
Next came a gorgeous Bengal tiger. I didn’t get a photo op with this creature, as it was more interested in roaming around and planning a way to somehow devour Kent’s dog.
“Dogs have what they call a ‘critical reaction’,” said Sid as he watched the two animals eyeball each other. “The cats have no idea how big they are. The chimps know how big they are because they look in the mirror. But the cats haven’t a clue, so if the dog has a critical reaction, say if it barks all of the sudden to get away, then from that point on, the cat will have total respect for the dog.”
Finally came the chimps Apollo and Angel. At five years old, Angel is the oldest primate on the ranch and has appeared before the camera more than any of the other animals. Angel will be appearing in a commercial for Hewlett Packard where she takes a digital picture, places the photo card in a card reader and then prints out the picture. It was amazing watching and interacting with Angel, as she was clearly the smartest and most curious of the chimps. First thing she did was grab my camera and as she clicked away, cleaning the lens if it became smudged with chimp prints, the interview came to an end. I was just so amazed that it was impossible to form any sort of question other than, “Can I take one of them home with me?”
My few hours at the Amazing Animal Actors ranch will never be forgotten. It was an experience I thought I’d never be fortunate enough to have, but there it was and I have Sid Yost and crew to wholeheartedly thank. But that’s not it. I’m not ending this piece with an underlying gloat. A “Look what I did and you didn’t” type of thing. No, I’m wrapping this whole thing up by informing you that you too can have your own personal wild animal experience in Malibu. For $300, you and another person will be guests on the ranch. You’ll be able to interact with the various animals, shadowing the trainers as they carry out their daily activities.
“It all goes to the animals,” said Sid. “Whenever somebody donates money or pays for an experience, it strictly goes for food for the animals and care, of which they get the very best. Everyone here works for free. The only way they get paid is when they go out on a job.”
Where else can you have television and move stars sit in your lap and make fart noises whenever somebody says “raspberry?” Well, if you’re hanging out with Nick Nolte maybe. But the only other place is at Amazing Animal Actors.
Check out the ranch at the Amazing Animal Actors website.