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Petting zoo draws animal lovers of all ages
Julie Strickland, above, enjoys feeding the camels at Sam's Path petting zoo during the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Wednesday.

      Click on link to watch a Studio Statesboro segment on the petting zoo at the Fair:

As children and adults crowded underneath the tent near the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair entrance, Bam Bam the camel stretched his neck, bared his teeth in a grin and begged for attention.
    He nuzzled, he nibbled handsful of food, and soaked up every smidgen of attention as visitors passed through Sam's Path Petting Zoo, one of  the new attractions at the 50th annual fair.
    The small tent drew large crowds as they met Mary Jane the spider monkey, who swung from bar to bar as she showed off; Spots the miniature spotted donkey, Franklin, the African spurred tortoise and more.
    Crisp, clean pens held miniature cattle, goats, a cockatoo, a young kangaroo named Kit, and an assortment of other animals. The menagerie is the product of a couple's love for animals,  named for their first pet monkey Sam, a Java Macaque, and inspired by the birth of their first baby llama.
    Jeff and Jodi Gray started Sam's Path more than 23 years ago, and ever since, their lives have been filled with animals and fun as they visit events, host pony parties, give camel rides and more, Jodi Gray said.
    This year is their first time in Statesboro. "I hope we'll be back," she said.
    According to their website,, the menagerie is expansive and includes numerous friendly, loving animals that are part of their family. They have miniature horses and ponies, donkeys, alpacas, camels, a variety of birds, kangaroos and other animals like Franklin the tortoise, who is the third largest tortoise of his kind in the world.
    Gray said she and her husband have always loved animals, but when their first baby llama was born, "It changed my perspective on animals."
    Now, she smiles as she watches small children gasp in wonder at Mary Jane's antics, giggle gleefully as a goat nibbles pellets of feed from their palms, and hug Bam Bam's curved neck, it is obvious the couple's endeavors are rewarding.
    But Wednesday night, at one point there were more adults under the tent that small children.
    "The monkey was funny," said Abby Gillis, visiting from Milledgeville. "It was swinging back and forth, went to the pole and came back. It was so cute."
    Courtney Jones, from Eastman, said she had never seen so many exotic animals in one place before.
    "I like animals, and I saw  the camel, so ..." she said, admitting she was drawn to the petting zoo when she saw Bam Bam and his friend, paint camel KC. Both are young dromedary camels, with one hump.
    Hannah Dempsey, who hails from Cochran, said her love for furbabies drew her in as well.
    "I love animals, and I really like the petting zoo here," she said. "I've never seen a petting zoo like this."
    The petting zoo is free of charge, one of the many free attractions at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair. This is the fair's 50th year, and the fairgrounds have many new features such as an expanded Heritage Village, new entertainment stage, and new exhibits, said fair chairman Don Poe.

    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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