Monday, July 17, 2017

The Twelfth Dragon

By C.J. Hirschfield

Interactive play is what Fairyland is all about. Everywhere they go, kids can engage in a hands-on way with the park and its attractions. With a playful adult by their side, kids can stimulate their imaginations and even learn. An extra plus — it’s fun!

For years, Fairyland has invited kids to discover Fairyland’s 11 dragons, who live all over our park. Some of our dragons are big, some small, and some are over your head—one is even covered all over with leaves. (We’re coming up with rhyming clues to help kids find them – stay tuned!) But none of our dragons was alive. Until now.

Fairyland’s twelfth dragon was found at the intersection of 25th and Cabrillo in San Francisco by staff members of that city’s animal control department. He is a bearded dragon, a species so named because the spikes and scales around the animal’s head resemble a beard. Bearded dragons are native to Australia, and their export was made illegal in the 1960s. The very delightful website says it’s believed that they were smuggled out of the country from the 1970s to the early 1990s, but that their population in the U.S. is now so large that importation is unnecessary, since they’re easily bred.

Meet Fairyland's newest animal friend!

Our bearded dragon was spied at animal control by Melissa Tauber, Fairyland’s animal care manager. She had come to the facility to look for a new guinea pig for the park. But a friend who works there asked her, “Do you want a dragon?” “No,” she said, thinking that Fairyland’s resident evil stepmother/boss (i.e., yours truly) would never agree to adding another animal mouth to feed. 

But Melissa knows bearded dragons, having worked with one during her time as a volunteer at the San Francisco Zoo. Melissa was a shy kid, but she’s always felt confident working with animals, and she ultimately earned a degree in animal science with an emphasis on animal behavior from U.C. Davis. At the zoo, she worked with the widest range of animals: ferrets, ball pythons, armadillos, owls, and newts, to name a few. She recalls that the zoo’s bearded dragon liked to hang out in her hands, or be walked around on a leash. Yes, a leash. Turns out that the breed is usually gentle by nature. They don't even attack when threatened: Instead, they freeze, puffing out their throats and even changing colors. 

Gentle, puffy, changing colors all of that sounded Fairylandish to Melissa. Besides: It’s a dragon! 

Melissa knew exactly what sort of enclosure the reptile would need, what foods it eats, and how great he would be for our up-close "animal of the day" presentations at the park. 

Still, when she approached me with a variation on the classic "It followed me home; can I keep it?" routine, I had to think about it. But not for long. Kids would love him. Kids would learn about him. He doesn't eat much, and he's very friendly. And HE'S ANOTHER DRAGON AT FAIRYLAND.

How can you not love that face?

And so I said yes, but on one condition: I had to be the one to name him.

Now, has many suggestions for dragon names, including the names of the three dragons in “Game of Thrones”: Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion. Then there’s Smaug, from “The Hobbit.” But those are all names of violent beasts – not Fairylandish at all.

There’s Falcor, from “The Neverending Story,” but his eyes always freaked me out.

No, there was only one name that would be perfect. It happens to be the name of the title character in a special performance we’ll be offering this summer at our annual Puppet Fair Weekend, August 26 and 27.

And so – drumroll, please – may I introduce you to Puff? He’s our very own magic dragon, who lives by the sea. Well, the lake.

Puff will be quarantined for the next couple of weeks, but after that you’ll be able to delight in the magic of Fairyland’s twelfth dragon.
C.J. Hirschfield has served for 15 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park.

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