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American River Messenger

Feast of Nature at Effie Yeaw

Oct 18, 2023 05:19PM ● By Susan Maxwell Skinner

Effie Yeaw naturalist Kristen Angelini illustrates Peregrine Falcon agility with Nature Center ambassador Wek-Wek. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - From tortoises to turkey; from a fruit-grabbing monkey to, yes, a gentle mermaid – the Effie Yeaw Nature Center went batty and bananas for its recent open day.

NatureFest is the center’s largest annual event, this year drawing more than 1100 visitors. Creatures great and small were paraded. A 500-pound alligator, a towering kangaroo and a tiny Capuchin monkey were part of an exotic menagerie transported to Carmichael by Gabe Kerschner, who runs an animal sanctuary in Placer County. His rescued animals are stars of television and hundreds of school programs.

NatureFest supporters also viewed a more regional lineup: this included cooing doves, a skunk and a rattlesnake. From the fast to the flat-footed, more exhibits provided contrast between a Peregrine falcon (achieving flights of 200 mph) and a huge, plodding tortoise.

Weighing in at 170 lbs., spurred tortoise Benjamin Franklin was a kid-magnet. “He loves going out to meet people,” says his handler, Tracy Meeks. “When we tip his cart to take him to “Ben’s Bus” for an outing, he walks right in. He knows he’s going to have a great day.”

The tortoise inhabits a 10-acre ranch in the foothills. Native to Africa, he hatched with a shell deformity 24 years ago. Ben was adopted by a teacher and raised in a Sacramento classroom. The teacher later re-homed the pet with former State worker Meeks. “We have several other big tortoises, but Ben has his own enclosure,” she reports. “He also has a Facebook page with more than 2000 followers.

“People love his personality. He’s an attention hog, and he eats straight from your hand. If you rub his shell, he lays down to lap it up. If there’s an adult and a child near him, he’ll migrate straight to the child – I guess that’s because he was raised with kids.

“When I look at his face, I just melt,” dotes Meeks. “He’s used to lots of love. With all the children at Effie Yeaw and their interest in nature, the experience was perfect for Ben.”

For information on Effie Yeaw Nature Center events, visit

Friendly giant Benjamin Franklin – an African spurred tortoise – charms visiting sisters Aspen (left) and Hazel Sosa. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner