COLUMBIA — When Greg Woody first stepped on the stage Tuesday night, he faced an audience of two people. But once he presented Cash, a Eurasian Eagle Owl, the damp bleacher seats immediately began to fill and children with digital cameras began to flock to the gate around the stage, eager to photograph some of the unusual animals in Woody’s Menagerie.
Woody’s Menagerie is a new attraction at the Boone County Fair and features nightly educational shows along with a separate reptile trailer.
Tuesday night’s show got off to a shaky start, as the one of the Menagerie’s trucks broke down Monday night in Lincoln, Ill. Because of the delay, the first show at 6 p.m. had to be canceled. However, despite technical difficulties, gloomy weather and tense animals, Woody still had the 8 p.m. show.
Woody, from Mulberry Grove, Ill., brought 14 animals with him for the show and more than 400 animals in the reptile trailer, including 19 species of gecko, 12 kinds of frogs and seven types of turtles.
“It’s an educational show,” Woody said. “It shows people some unusual animals they might not normally see.”
One such animal was Sarah, a kinkajou. The kinkajou can run backward just as fast as forward because it can turn its ankles around, Woody said.
Woody and his assistant, Amanda Davis of Oregon, brought out one animal after another. Some, such as E.T. the snow monkey, and his little brother, Benny, brought coos and giggles from the crowd as Davis tossed him marshmallows.
“It’s completely different from school,” Davis said.
Davis, 21, spent 2-and-a-half years studying zoology in Portland, Ore., but is taking a break from school working for Woody.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Davis said. “But it’s all worth it when I bring Annie out.”
Annie is a 6-month-old grizzly bear that ambled curiously around the stage when not being held by Davis.
“I’ve been raising her since she was about 6 weeks old,” Davis said. “She was still on the bottle.”
Davis will continue working with Woody until August and she plans to return to college and finish her zoology degree.
“I want to be like the next Steve Irwin and have my own animal show,” Davis said, smiling.
Although most of Woody’s animals were small and calm, others, such as Jackal, Woody’s striped hyena, induced gasps and wide-eyed stares as he strained at his two leashes, eager to explore his new environment.
Jackal is Woody’s personal pet, living with him in his house in Mulberry Grove.
“When he feels he isn’t getting enough attention, he jumps right up into my lap,” Woody said.
Jackal is only one of three striped hyenas doing shows in the U.S.
“And I feel he’s the best behaved one,” Woody said.
As sheep bleated loudly behind the metal bleachers, the hyena’s fur stood on end as he paced the stage, glancing quickly in every direction.
“He’s nervous,” Woody said. “Some species look for protection more than others. I hear people talk about ‘wild animals.’ Some of these animals are generations further from the wild than their domestic dog.”
Woody was pleased to present his finale, which he called the rarest cats in the world.
“The only different between your house cats and my cats is size,” Woody said as he brought out Charlie and Tank, two young ligers, a cross between a lion and a tiger.
When they grow up, Charlie and Tank could weigh up to 900 pounds each, Woody said. He was also sure to point out that the brothers both had all their claws and teeth.
“If they ever decide to turn on me, I want to get it over quick,” Woody said. “One thing’s for certain — once you think you know an animal, they’ll prove you wrong, whether it’s cattle or ligers or whatever.”
Woody was sure to mention that he had not shown all of the animals Tuesday night.
“(Wednesday), there’ll be a species of animal that causes more bites than anything else in the world,” he said.
Woody’s Menagerie Wildlife Shows continue at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. through Thursday, then at 5, 7 and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The educational shows are free.
Woody’s Reptiles and More is open all week for $3 per person of $5 for two people.