The outside world

Wildlife Fest features animals big, small

Jim Sawgrass doesn't spend time on the computer or use his cellphone much, but he can tell you how to start a fire by rubbing sticks together or what wild berries are safe to eat.

A Muscogee Creek Indian tribe member, Sawgrass will be sharing his knowledge of the outdoors and of American Indian culture at the Big Haynes Creek Wildlife Festival this year.

The festival is set for Aug. 27 and 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. Admission is $5, free for children 4 and under.

Sawgrass is one of 65 presenters and exhibitors scheduled to work the festival, an event designed to connect people with nature.

American Indian living history educators, Sawgrass, and partner Little Big Mountain, dress in costumes that Indians from the 18th and 19th centuries would have worn, and they set up a "horse camp," -- two shelters (one made of natural materials, another of canvas) along with a variety of period gear and tools, all items that could be loaded onto the back of horse for travel.

The men describe to visitors how Indians lived, eating what they could hunt and forage from the forest. They make it a point to discuss that Indians used all parts of the animals they harvested.

They also demonstrate fire making and how to use the period tools.

"We want to show how people survived and lived in nature," said Sawgrass, who travels to fairs, festivals and schools presenting his program.

Sawgrass will also bring a 13-foot tanned alligator head and skin and a dugout canoe. He's open for photos and discussions with visitors.

"The most exciting thing for the kids is to learn how their ancestors lived," said Sawgrass, adding that no matter a person's ethnic background, all people lived off the land at one point in time. "That's what our show is about."

Wild creatures of all sorts will be on display at the festival, including exotic animals presented by Wildlife Wonders. The company's wildlife educator Shauna Smith said she hopes to bring a gibbon, the smallest of the ape species; an African serval cat, a medium-size wild cat that weighs about 40 pounds; a kangaroo; a porcupine; and a parrot, among other animals.

Wildlife Wonders also presents a safari adventure show, but Smith's not giving away the details.

"Some of that is a surprise," she said. "Basically, that's where you're going to see a performance that involves the animals and we'll show the abilities that they have naturally and how we've been encouraging those abilities."

Other animal presentations include a birds of prey show; Southeastern Reptile Rescue trailer and stage show; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mist-netting and bird-banding demonstrations; Georgia State Frisbee Dog Championships; and a bass tub, where visitors can watch fishing demonstrations.

There will also be an artists' market; entertainment like clogging, bands and American Indian song and storytelling; and children's activities such as a giant sandbox, craft-making booths, train rides and pony rides.

Festival organizer Rebecca Hill said the festival, in its fifth year, drew 6,000 visitors in 2010.

Hill said the children enjoy seeing the animals, especially the reptiles, and participating in the hands-on activities.

"Parents have expressed their appreciation that their kids had fun but also learned something," Hill said. "It's great for families and adults get into it too."

For information about the Big Haynes Creek Wildlife Festival, visit www.bighaynescreekwildlifefestival.com.