Where the wild things are


Jessie CadleStaff Writer

Though bats are typically the sole animal inhabitants of the Chautauqua Amphitheater, today an alligator, a falcon, a porcupine and several other creatures will grace the stage with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’s Peter Gros.

The program, part of the Family Entertainment Series, kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in the Amp.

“I hope to excite families about nature and wildlife” Gros said, “and inspire them to connect with the natural world.”

Gros, co-host of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” since 1985, has traveled from the Great Barrier Reef to the Kalahari Desert working as an activist for animals.

Tonight, he takes the stage in Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Starring Peter Gros to share stories of his travels and to present his people-friendly animals to the crowd. The program’s goal is to rekindle a connection between today’s youth and nature, and to tell audience members how they can help conservation efforts.

The ultimate takeaway is hope, Gros said.

“This is not a gloom and doom show,” he said. “It’s about the good things in nature and the progress we are making.”

Gros emphasizes the power one person has to make an impact in conservation, citing the Cheetah Conservation Fund as an example. The nonprofit was the idea of Laurie Marker, who took action when she saw Namibia’s struggling cheetah population.

Gros, now a trustee for the Cheetah Conservation Fund, has always had large cats in his life.

After graduating from an animal husbandry and training school, Gros built free-roaming wild-animal displays for zoos. Once, when a mother rejected its tiger cub, he bottle-fed the tiger and forged a 21-year bond with the cat. Later, he took tiger cubs on “The Johnny Carson Show.”

There he met Jim Fowler, which led to his subsequent career as Fowler’s co-host on “Wild Kingdom.” Almost thirty years later, he has traveled the world, working on conservation efforts from establishing breeding programs for endangered species to shepherding sixth graders through the rainforest.

“The highlight of the trip was introducing the Peruvian rainforest to 39 sixth graders. The second highlight was coming back with all 39,” he said.

Engaging with youth in a fun, proactive way, much like he will today, has been the center of Gros’ most recent conservation efforts.

“I think with video games, computer activities and shopping malls, many of today’s young people seem to have a nature deficit disorder,” Gros said. “We need to re-involve our young people in outdoor activities in nature.”

He said that the more information disseminated to young people the better, because they are the most eager to make a difference.

“Young people are so excited about wildlife,” Gros said. “I want to replace fear of wildlife with understanding and respect.”

One of the animals that deserves such praise is the bat, Gros said. After hearing of most Chautauquans’ love for bats, he explained that one bat can eat up to 2,500 mosquitoes in one night.

“Can you imagine what our life would be like without the bat?” he asked.