Ostrich Festival Good Family Fun, But Less Ostrich, Please.
My first up-close encounter with the large flightless birds from Africa happened, oddly enough, at a petting farm in Park Rapids, Minnesota. As soon as I approached the enclosure, where about 20 or so of them were clustered, the group spied the dry kibble in my trembling open palm and rushed to the forefront. Nearly 10 years later, I can still see them towering over me, clouds of dust arising from their shaking feathers, stepping on one another's prehistoric-like feet, beaks clacking, and heads bobbing up and down like a bunch of wide-eyed pink snakes with fake eyelashes. The kibble went airborne, and I went back to the deer.
It was conquering this fear of our largest living species of bird (and the opportunity to eat one) that I decided to spend a few hours at the 24th Annual Ostrich Festival in Chandler.
I must say it was a great event, but it would have been better without the ostriches.
Beautiful weather, a well-thought-out layout at Chandler's Tumbleweed Park, and fun, family-focused attractions -- like dogs jumping off a dock into water, a petting zoo, camel rides, a bubble booth, and an entertaining show called "Wild About Monkeys" -- made for a lot to see in various sections throughout the venue. (You can check out our slide show of the event here.)
A broom is used to corral the ostriches into their racing booths.
Of course, the main attraction is the ostrich races, and everyone -- save for the ostriches -- seemed to be very excited about them.
Clearly agitated at being pushed about with a broom and corralled into booths where hoods are put over their heads until race time, the ostriches are hooked up to small chariots with human riders inside. On a signal, their hoods are pulled off and they not so much as race but flee around the track in sheer panic with a single goal of getting back to their pen. At one point, a terrified ostrich with chariot in tow took a sharp right out of the starting booth and wildly crashed into the spectator gate.
A "racing" ostrich and chariot just before crashing into the spectator gate.
Not my kind of fun and, feeling sorry for the large birds that once seemed so frightening, I went off in search of food.