PLANT CITY – Kevin Keith said there’s one thing he can honestly say about the stars of the show he and his wife Martina present at the Florida Strawberry Festival.
“They work for peanuts,” Keith said of the animals that are at the heart of Wild About Monkeys.
The Keiths weave facts about baboons and other critters in the show they present at least three times a day at the festival.
Keith leads the baboons that are in the show, Mickey and Dagney, through a series of tricks that include backflips, applauding and other routines. The show also features Kimmey, a border collie, and Rico, a capuchin monkey.
Wild About Monkeys is one of a number of new on-grounds acts that the festival has booked this year, General Manager Paul Davis said. The Keiths first caught the eye of festival officials at an expo where available acts are showcased, Davis said.
“It’s a very exciting show and they have a lot of interaction with the audience,” Davis said. “We knew it would be a good fit for our festival.”
The shows are free for the price of gate admission.
Keith, a California native, said he developed an affection for working with baboons more than 30 years ago as a volunteer for animal trainers. He later got a degree in exotic animal training and management, and worked for theme parks before starting a show of his own.
“We travel all over the United States,” at fairs and other venues, he said. He said his baboons have been featured in movies, television shows and even a Super Bowl advertisement.
He said Mickey most recently appeared on the big screen in 2012 in “Rock of Ages,” a movie starring Tom Cruise. His animals were also in the 2007 comedy, “Evan Almighty,” about a congressman who is divinely inspired to build an ark.
Keith said he likes working with baboons because they are intelligent and social animals. He trains them through rewards, including treats of fruit, monkey biscuts and hugs.
“They love hugs. They are very social animals and they will hug each other in the wild,” he said.
Mickey and Dagney also enjoy applause from the audience he said.
Spectators aren’t allowed to hold or touch the baboons because of state regulations, although he allows a child on stage as part of a routine with the border collie.
Wild About Animals is located south of the main festival gate. The performances are at 1, 4 and 8 p.m. daily, with a 6 p.m. show on Saturday and Sunday.
The festival runs through Sunday.