Elkhart County 4-H Fair welcomes sea lions
Posted: 07/22/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Angelle Barbazon
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Sparky the sea lion jumps out of the tank at the Sea Lion Splash on July 19, 2012. Sparky and the other sea lions will be entertaining at the Family Entertainment Center throughout the fair. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Two of the sea lions that are performing at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair play in their pool July 15, 2009. (Truth File Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
Zoe balances a ball and holds a pose on the Sea Lion Splash stage July 19, 2012. The sea lions will be entertaining at the Family Entertainment Center on the fairgrounds throughout the fair. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Trainer Stefi Slavova holds a ball over the nose of Zoe on the Sea Lion Splash stage at the Family Entertainment Center on July 19, 2012. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
The sea lion trainer, Jessica, holds up three fish she plans to give to sea lions Spark, Kim, and Zoe for doing such a great job during the Splash Show at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair on July 17, 2009. (Truth File Photo By Rachel S. O’Hara)
Sea Lion Splash trainer Stefi Slavova feeds Alicia raw fish as Zoe watches from a stand on the Sea Lion Splash stage July 19, 2012. The sea lions will be entertaining at the Family Entertainment Center throughout the fair. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
A saltwater pool has been set up at the fair’s family entertainment area for Sparky and Zoey, a pair of friendly sea lions that have traveled more than 1,000 miles from Florida with their trainers.
“They’re probably the biggest family attraction,” said Herb Maust, a long-time volunteer who books the fair’s animal act every year. “There are five sets of bleachers, and they’re always full. Many times, it’s standing room only.”
The sea lion duo travels from coast to coast for performances with trainer Stefi Slavova, who works with 10 sea lions at Squalus Inc.
“We try to keep it educational but a lot of fun,” said Slavova, who comes from a long line of animal trainers. “My family has been training animals for four generations, but the sea lions stole my heart. I consider myself their best friend.”
Eight-year-old Sparky is a captive-born sea lion, and 4-year-old Zoey was found stranded on a beach when she was a pup. The two sea lions like to entertain crowds by dancing, doing flips in the water and splashing around, Slavova said, adding that they learn some tricks in less than a day.
“They take direction pretty easily,” explained Slavova, who rewards the sea lions with raw fish. “They have natural behaviors and you bring them to a cue. The hardest part is winning their trust, but once you do, they’re very playful. They love to interact with people, so that makes it easy for training.”
The sea lions have performances each day of the fair at 3, 6 and 8 p.m.