Dressed in puffy-sleeved shirts and sleeveless vests, floor-length dresses and floral headbands, Renaissance men and women manned their lairs – including a bounce house, jousting pen and an exhibit providing a historical and physiological survey of dragons.
Activities including jousting matches and educational sessions with animal expert Jarod Miller of Animal Exploration are scheduled throughout the 25th annual Wild Renn Fest in East Aurora, a fundraiser for the Hawk Creek Wildlife Center. Proceeds from the festival, which runs today and next Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., will help rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals and fund the center’s educational activities.
On Saturday, two alpacas slothed around behind a metal fence, munching on grass as passers-by craned their necks. Young children engaged in one-on-one duels, wielding foam pool floats in an attempt to knock an opponent off-balance from a wooden log.
The event is a nod to the olden days of medieval falconry, when families relied on the hard-charging bird to secure the day’s meals. Dating back 4,000 years, the man-falcon relationship signaled the start of mankind’s partnership with animals, said Loretta Jones, the center’s executive director. The festival provides a chance for festivalgoers to learn about animals’ role in the ecosystem, Jones said.
“If you don’t see them, you don’t know them and you don’t care for them,” said Jones, who spent part of Saturday afternoon with an endangered Canadian lynx draped on her shoulders, stopping periodically to answer questions about the kitten-like animal. She wore a self-designed headdress fashioned from chicken feathers, pairing it with a corset and fabric-heavy dress.
Each year, the center cares for hundreds of animals, ranging in variety from hummingbirds to eagles, said Matt Zymanek, the center’s operation manager. The wildlife center hosts about 90 educational animals as permanent residents of the center.
Renn Fest’s Walk the Eagles exhibit provided up-close encounters with two rescued bald eagles named Tunka and One Wing. There also was Fernando, an Andean condor – the world’s largest flying bird – who needed 150 stitches after his parents attacked him, Zymanek said.
But perhaps the most emotional and popular feature of Renn Fest is the release of barn owls into the wild, Zymanek said. This year’s release is the last time the center will be able to release the owls because of stricter and more costly electronic tracking requirements of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. One barn owl will be released each day of the festival.
Admission to Renn Fest is $13 for adults, $9 for children, or $36 for two adults and three children.
Karen Howard of Kenmore brought her 6- and 12-year-old grandsons to the festival, and appreciated the chance to expose them to another era removed from modern distractions.
“They’re away from the videos, and they’re away from the TV, the computer and they’re using their imagination,” she said.
Patty Vaughan, 52, also relished the educational opportunity.
“You learn about stuff that is never around anymore,” said Vaughan, as her grandson Joe, 11, stopped to get his “Guide to Dragonology” worksheet stamped after correctly answering a question listed on the sheet. Scavengers earn a prize if they answer all six questions.
“It’s interesting to see what was back then,” she added.