For most of their lives they are Susan and David Kleven, animal care specialists with a small ranch in Denton county Texas. But, in different roles they also answer to "Safari Sue" and "Critterman," wildlife Safari Guides. More than 600 times a year they take snakes and bugs and furry creatures of all sizes -- to schools and recreation centers and private parties, for wildly entertaining sessions they like to think of as edu-tainment. "The kids react with awe and wonder," Critterman, a.k.a. David Kleven, explained while showing us around the living quarters of his Animal Ambassadors. "I've always loved animals and I think as I grew older I really loved sharing what I learned about animals with other kids and other people."
The Kleven's showed us many of their 65 different animals, including a coati, a tropical relative of the raccoon. "You'd be surprised how many people don't realize we have these animals in South Texas," David said while cradling the long-tailed, pointy-nosed anteater looking critter and caressing the coati's dark, thick fur. "They're great animals for educational programs, especially the one we do on native Texas species."
Susan Kleven introduced us to a number of animals who'd come to the ranch injured, like a turkey vulture named Uncle Fester. "Uncle Fester came to us about seven years ago as a juvenile. When he was first starting to fly, unfortunately, he collided with a car." A great horned owl named Luna was another rescued bird with no place else to go. "Somebody actually found Luna hanging by one wing on some barbed wire," Susan said. "An owl who can't escape would very quickly become a meal for a coyote or a bobcat."
David showed us a two-foot long alligator who'd become a big hit at Critterman and Safari Sue shows. "This animal was confiscated from a gentleman who won him in a dart game. A lot of these animals were once people's pets. They thought a wild animal would make a good pet and they found out the hard way that's not true."
Many of the Animal Ambassadors represent species that once roamed Texas, like a beautiful grey wolf. Others, like a crested porcupine, are native to places as far away as Africa. All of them have their own story. And each can be a way for children to connect with learning about animals and the world around them. "It's their job to help us teach people," Susan said. "It's our job to take care of them in captivity. We take that very seriously."
For more information on Critterman and Safari Sue you can call them at 940.365.9741. Or check them out on line at www.animaled.com.