Open just over a month, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is proving to be the draw that the Stark Foundation and Orange hoped it would be. Saturday, people from Oregon, Illinois, Woodville and Lumberton rode together on one of the pontoon boats along Adams Bayou.

Shangri La’s Earth Week Celebration had special programs all week long, culminating in the Eco Festival on Saturday.

The event had lots of activities for kids, such as skits on soil preparation and face painting, gardening and crafts.

Brownie Troop 4093 from Beaumont’s Regina Howell Elementary participated in children’s planting activities and took home their plants in small containers. 

Kira C. from Vidor made a wind sock out of colorful tissue paper. “It wasn’t hard,” she said.

“It was pretty amazing how easy it was,” said Kira’s mom, Shannon. 

They had not intended to be at Shangri La more than an hour, but couldn’t make themselves leave.

“We came to make a scavenger hunt,” said Shannon. She explained that she was a teacher at Oak Forest Elementary and was taking notes for a scavenger hunt for her classroom at a later date. By the time they left, four hours had passed. 

Booths were set up from different organizations that promote “earth friendly” products and practices. Included in the groups were the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, The Big Thicket Preserve, a bicycle club, the Native Plant Society and the Sierra Club.

The booths had information on wild flowers, erosion, clean waterways, and recycling.

Alfred Achar of Savannah Supplies, based in Pearland, showed biodegradable cleaning products, along with disposable, biodegradable plates and utensils. What looked like plastic forks and spoons, were made from soy and corn and can be composted.

Everyone has heard that florescent light bulbs use less electricity than regular ones, but Saturday, you were able to see the dramatic drop when the two types of bulbs were hooked up through an electric meter and a switch was flipped between the two bulbs.

Even television celebrity “Jungle Jack” Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium, was “blown away” by Shangri La when he visited it before his show Sunday night at the Lutcher Theater.

“Do you know what you have here?” he asked the theater crowd, talking about both Shangri La and the Lutcher Theater. “There are large cities that don’t have facilities like these. I don’t know who Mr. Lutcher is, but I sure wish he was in Columbus.”

Hanna’s show was the grand finale to Shangri La’s Earth Week.

Michael Hoke, Shangri La’s executive director, introduced Hanna to 1,283 fans at the theater Sunday evening.

A knee injury that requires surgery could not keep Hanna from his appointment with Orange. “I haven’t missed a speech in 32 years,” he said. Hanna was supposed to be on crutches, but he left them behind the stage. He did limit his movement on the stage, but did not act like he was in pain other than he had a small limp.

It was Hanna’s turn to amaze the crowd with clips from his many adventures and an exotic collection of animals from around the world.

A baby zebra, just a few weeks old, was one of the first animals presented. The zebra was still being bottle fed every two hours.

There were two young kangaroos, or wallabies. Hanna explained how mother kangaroos can have three stages of reproduction going on at the same time. Kangaroos do not develop in the mother’s womb, they develop in the pouch. The mother can have one baby ready to come out of the pouch while one is climbing toward the pouch and she can have another embryo just developing. He explained that there are two nipples in the mother’s pouch. One is for the nourishment while the kangaroo is still developing and the other is for when it gets older.

Hanna also had the cameraman get close enough so that the kangaroo’s pocket could be seen on the giant screen when Hanna reached in and opened the pouch with his fingers. The kangaroos he had with him were small enough that the handlers had them in cloth bags that simulated their mother’s pouch. The handlers demonstrated how the kangaroo gets in the pouch.

There were alligators, bear-kats, boa constrictors and a baby camel among many other unusual and exotic species. Some of them being very rare and endangered.
A volunteer from the audience named Christy may still be a bit traumatized from her appearance on the stage. She was invited up to touch a snake. Instead of bringing out a snake, Hanna put a large, Madagascar cockroach on her shoulder. She was so terrified that she couldn’t even look at it.

Hoke later told The Record that when Hanna went through Shangri La, he saw a king snake eating a mud snake. The zoologist who has traveled the world had never before seen such a site.

Hanna told the theater audience he wants to come back to Orange and Shangri La in the future. That is a major thumbs-up from someone who has been on every continent in the world at least twice.

He ended the show with a blooper reel of his television shows and the audience laughed heartily. 

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.