Central Albertans were able to meet a sloth, wallaroo and other animals during the Wildlife Festival.
An estimated 2,000 people were expected to attend the three-day event, which began Friday at the Parkland Pavillion in Red Deer.
“The Wildlife Festival is designed to connect people with animals,” said Jason Clevett, event co-promoter.
“We spread messages of conservation, responsible pet ownership and respect for wildlife. Certainly, in a lot of the places we go, you don’t get the opportunity to see animals like this up close.”
The promoters are based in Calgary, so it was a quick trip to Red Deer this weekend.
“We arrived on Thursday. We transport the animals in heated vehicles – we’re able to drive right into most of our venues, so they’re not even exposed to the cold,” he said.
“We set everything up, so the spaces are all heated and lit properly, and all of the animals have their requirements met. Then on Sunday night, when the doors close, we pack everything up, stay here overnight and first thing Monday morning, we’re on the road.”
One of the most exciting parts about hosting the events is seeing people’s reactions to the animals, Clevett noted.
“This is all about those moments and those experiences that people have,” Clevett said.
“We have had one person who said to us, ‘I live with a disability and I don’t have a passport, so I’m not able to travel. Going down to Costa Rica or Brazil to go to a sloth sanctuary, or to see them in the wild is not possible.’ She went in and had the experience with the sloth and was just crying with happiness.
“It’s stories like this that show the impact we’re having. The amount of people who come up and are thankful makes it all worth it. The kids are going to remember for the rest of their life the day they touched a snake for the first time, when they saw a sloth for the first time or when they pet a porcupine. You do not forget that.”
Clevett added: “Red Deer always shows up for us and we really appreciate it. We love coming to Red Deer, not just because it’s close to home, but because we get so much love and appreciation from people.”
For more information on the Wildlife Festival, visit www.wildlifefestival.ca.