Exotic animals flock to No.Va. festival (photos)

WASHINGTON – Want to get up close and personal with a pygmy hedgehog? Then stop by Celebrate Fairfax this weekend and visit with some of the animals from Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Park staff brought several exotic critters to the WTOP newsroom Thursday and they’ll be meeting and greeting visitors closer to home Friday through Sunday at the Fairfax County Government Center.

And Hook, a green winged macaw, can’t wait to get started. He sang for WTOP listeners during a visit to the Glass Enclosed Nerve Center and interrupted an earlier news segment with a cheerful “Hello!”

The green winged macaw is one of the largest of its species. Vocal birds, their calls can be heard up to a mile away. Their bite is strong enough to break through a broomstick.

“It’s kind of like having a two-year-old crossed with a pit bull, crossed with a pair of vice grips and a rock concert going on in your house at all times,” says Anita Yeattes, supervisor of zoological operations at Busch Gardens.

Hook was once a pet like Artemis, an African pygmy hedgehog. The small, active animal scampered across the news desk throughout their visit.

“When you select a pet, you usually go for the cute, cuddly. Hedgehogs aren’t so cuddly,” Yeattes says.

The animals appear similar to porcupines and have the same adaptation for survival as a porcupine but went through different evolutionary process and aren’t related, she says.

Not to be outdone, Amber, a red-tailed hawk, also interrupted the news with a ferocious spat of wing-flapping that knocked over a microphone. A bird of prey, hawks eat mostly rodents.

She was rescued after injuring her rear toe, which is what the birds use to capture their prey, Yeattes says.

Amber is part of the park’s Bird of Prey area.

Learn more about the festival at CelebrateFairfax.com.

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