Fairgoers Find It’s A Wild World

Show Explores Animal Kingdom

Posted: August 14, 2014

Megan Heyl gets a kiss from Orville the Binturong, or bearcat, during the Wild World of Animals show at the Rockingham County Fair on Tuesday. Binturongs are omnivores, native to Southeast Asia. (Photos by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
Megan Heyl shows off an African spurred tortoise during the Wild World of Animals show at the Rockingham County Fair on Tuesday.
Heyl holds an alligator snapping turtle, one of a number of exotic animals that fair attendees were treated to at the show.

HARRISONBURG — Like many who find themselves at county fairs each year, Megan Heyl was pretty much destined for it at a young age.

But as opposed to raising livestock or outfitting an old car to demolish, Heyl’s path involved pets nicknamed Frogzilla and Ug, an iguana’s title that was short for “ugly.”

“She would bring home snakes, turtles. She had iguanas in her room,” said Linda Heyl, her mother.

It all made sense for Linda Heyl and her husband, Jim, on Tuesday at the Rockingham County Fair, when, for the first time, the Myrtle Beach, S.C., couple could see their daughter with the traveling Wild World of Animals show.

“She was unbelievable,” Linda Heyl said.

Wild World of Animals, a wildlife training and educational company outside of Pittsburgh, has two free performances a night this week at the fair. Heyl, 35, and Mac McBurnie, 29, are the company’s representatives on location, a job that’s taken them as far away as Iowa this year and the Utah State Fair in the past.

“It’s a passion and it’s a lifestyle,” Heyl said.

The show offered at any given location is based on the company’s employees assigned to it, the place itself — some states don’t allow primates, for example — and the relationships the workers have with the exotic animals that make the trip from among the 150 that Wild World raises and trains.

For Heyl and McBurnie, they’re treating Rockingham County Fair attendees to an alligator snapping turtle, red-tail boa constrictor, European eagle owl and binturong, or bearcat, among other animals.

Staunton resident Chris Merrigan, 12, got to take home a piece of one — a quill from an African-crested porcupine — after spelling a certain word, with some help.

“I might put it as a spear tip,” he said, adding that he “loves” animals, particularly dangerous ones.

Brianna Wimer, 8, of Monterey, leans more toward the cuddly type, saying a North American river otter was her favorite.

“He’s so cute,” she said.

Heyl emphasizes that all animals have a job to do. The boa constrictor, for one, eats rodents.

While explaining each of the animal’s unique features, Heyl sometimes seems as if she longs for eyes in the back of her head, just in case of a mistake. For example, she’s not too keen on getting stuck by the porcupine and keeps a watchful eye.

But McBurnie says there are no major injuries to report from their line of work, showing off a small scar on his upper right arm from a coatimundi, a raccoon-like animal.

“In 18 years … I’ve been bitten four times, twice by my own dog,” Heyl said of her chocolate Labrador.

And so maybe it is indeed all fun and games because nobody loses an eye. Heyl’s relationship with the binturong best illustrates that.

Named Orville, the bearcat from Southeast Asia and 16-year veteran of Wild World shows, gives his master some love by kissing her, and strolls around stage with Heyl.

His name is derived from the most famous of Orvilles, popcorn legend Orville Redenbacher, because his oil glands secrete a popcorn smell.

“That makes everything he touches smell like popcorn,” Heyl said. “I don’t mind cleaning up Orville’s poop.”

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com

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