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Altamont Fair Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 12, 2010

Six beloved baboons will monkey around at the Altamont Fair

By Anne Hayden

ALTAMONT — Kevin Keith, and his wife, Martina, are Wild About Monkeys — that’s the name of the show they’ll be presenting at the Altamont Fair.

Kevin Keith got a degree in exotic animal training and management from Moorpark College in California, which he said is considered America’s teaching zoo. The first time he ever worked with a baboon was during his years at school, and he has been working almost exclusively with that breed of monkey for the past two decades. Martina Keith was always involved with animals, but only began working with baboons when she met her husband.

“They are the most social primate. They form very close bonds, which is extremely important if you are going to be working with them on stage; you need trust,” explained Keith. He said baboons are smart and trainable, and even enjoy performing.

Over the years, Keith has done many different shows involving baboons at theme parks and fairs across the country, but he and his wife have only been performing “Wild About Monkeys” for six years. The show is based around recent films and commercials that their baboons have starred in, including the movie Evan Almighty, in 2007, and a Super Bowl commercial for Sierra Mist in 2003.

“’Wild About Monkeys’ provides a lot of education on baboons, but also funny slapstick humor and tricks,” Keith said. He and his wife, who live in Napa, Calif., own eight baboons, and will have six of them at the Altamont Fair — a 22-year-old male, two 17-year-old females, a 12-year-old female, a 2-year-old female, and a 1-year-old male.

Baboons in captivity have an average lifespan of 30 to 35 years. All of the Keith’s baboons were born in the United States, to different zoos and breeders.

“The older baboons aren’t able to handle as much physical activity during the show, which is why we bring in the younger ones,” said Keith. At home in California, he and his wife have an animal facility on five acres, where they live with their baboons.

“I have great bonds with all of them,” Keith said. He explained that his 22-year-old baboon is diabetic, and gets insulin shots every day.

“It’s really important to me to keep him with me so I can keep on eye on him,” said Keith.

Baboons, being very social creatures, enjoy performing, and, Keith said, when he does shows, he watches carefully to determine which animals respond well to certain activities, so he can build on those activities for them. He rewards them for their performances with healthy treats, hugs, and verbal praise.

“Baboons’ personalities are as varied as humans, and they can be really affectionate,” said Keith.

“Wild About Monkeys” will be performed three times each day at the Altamont Fair. In addition to the show, Keith will bring the monkeys out for “playtime” during the day, so people can watch them interact and groom each other.

“It’s fun to watch them do things they naturally like to do,” said Keith.

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