Portola Valley event benefits abandoned exotic animals


Representatives from various corners of the animal kingdom -- reptiles, birds and mammals, including some 350 humans -- spent about four hours together for a good cause recently in Portola Valley's Westridge neighborhood.

The cause: a fundraiser at the animal-accommodating property of Paul Holland and Linda Yates on behalf of Conservation Ambassadors, a Paso Robles nonprofit that rescues exotic animals.

Tickets for the event were officially $500 per person, but checking for tickets was loosely enforced, if enforced at all, particularly for families with children, Mr. Holland said. The May 14 event raised more than $100,000 for Conservation Ambassadors, he said.

Many of the local people involved, including those preparing the food, did so for a third to a half of their usual fees, he said. All of the wine was donated.

Ms. Yates is a member the nonprofit's board. "This was totally her thing," Mr. Holland said of his wife.

"I was blown away," Mr. Holland said of the event. "Everywhere I turned, there was an exotic animal." Many are rescued from "idiotic people" who, perhaps while inebriated in Las Vegas, buy an animal on impulse then tire of it. The animals come to this country as babies, often captured en masse by poachers who kill the parents, he said.

"It's just particularly cruel," he said, adding that Nevada is "particularly bad about" allowing their sale. "You should not be contributing to the illegal trade or even the legal trade of these animals because it's very, very harmful," he said.

Gator in a bathtub

More than 50 volunteer handlers were on hand to present 45 species, including alligators, a slow loris (a small tree-climbing primate), a kinkajou (a raccoon-like rainforest creature), lemurs, macaws, kangaroos, a Morocco-African crested porcupine, a camel, a mountain lion and a pair of otters.

Within a wing's length or two under a shade tree were perched a bald eagle, a barred owl, a hawk and turkey vulture, all tethered and all seemingly preoccupied with their own thoughts while observing life going on around them.

A 5-foot red-tailed boa, draped over its handler's shoulder had a fixed gaze at the ground and showed no objections to repeatedly having its smooth scales caressed by children.

Some of the animals were familiar with the Holland-Yates property. The porcupine, for example, is a frequent visitor and allowed to "walk around the house," Mr. Holland said, often accompanied -- at a distance -- by the family dog.

Each animal had a story. Spike the alligator used to belong to a drug dealer who kept him in a bathtub with his supply of drugs, Mr. Holland said. Thunder, a bald eagle, suffered a paralyzing collision with a high-voltage wire. The mountain lion Tah Mah Lah mountain lion in Ohlone dialect had been rescued from a recent forest fire in California.

The herbivores, including the camel and the kangaroos, munched bunch grass on the property and were welcome to it, Mr. Holland said. "They could eat the grass all day long if they wanted to," he said.

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