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Day of the Animals

Thousands of creatures emerged from their habitats Saturday to take a stroll in the annual Wild Walk Parade.

Cockroaches, peacocks and orcas were among the wild things to stretch their wings, feathers and fins in a colorful kickoff of Missoula's 23rd International Wildlife Film Festival week.

The parade snaked its way from Higgins Avenue's landmark red "Xs" through the belly of town, showing off its exotic and imaginative life forms before coiling up at Caras Park.

A crowd of hundreds applauded and whistled at the parade entries - mostly children - who created a Noah's Ark in just about every color known to man.

To recognize some creations, however, costume artists needed to give the bystanders a little coaching.

"I'm not a crab, I am a lobster," said 4-year-old crustacean Alex Menendez as he walked the parade route.

Things from the deep end of the ocean made an appearance by a pod of Missoula Camp Fire Girls and Boys.

Leading a crew of animated moon jellyfish was 8-year-old Carly Fuglei.

"This is so fun, you get to walk around and see all these pretty creatures and how people created them and you get to be one yourself," Fuglei said in one breath.

Nearby, land creatures that never see the light of day also made a rare showing, thanks to the Florence Elementary School's first grade.

"We are animals that live in complete darkness in caves," said Kayla Johnson, who like her 14 classmates, was dressed in complete white. Cave creatures, she said, "are colorless."

The students were costumed in the likenesses of blind fish, cave spiders, slugs and centipedes. "I was going to be a cave cricket," Johnson confided, "but no one wanted to be a blind fish so I volunteered to be it."

The event also turned out to be an excellent opportunity for bird watchers looking to fill their life lists.

Neila Getz, 12, and her friends carried three of her 4H exotic chickens in the parade: a turken bald neck, a speckled Sussex and a buff brahman.

Perhaps even more unusual was the presence of a fern bird from the Rainbow Forest. It dazzled the crowd with his feather cape of silk ties and musical washboard chest.

"Fern birds are very rare, in fact, they're extremely rare," said the bird's spokesman, Tree Frog. "They hang out in the Rainbow Forest and the Rainbow Forest is hard to find, too."

Also among the rare feathered appearances was a redheaded, Spanish-speaking daddy penguin named Ezekiel Peterson, whose flock belonged to the Missoula International School.

After taking in the unusual-looking crowd, Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas said: "How many places can you see penguins on a Saturday morning walking down the main street of town? And they are all getting along with the killer whales and the lions and the tigers! It's such a congenial group."

Kadas wouldn't comment about the bears that sometimes inhabit City Council meetings, but said: "I think the parade sets a good example for general civic behavior."

Post parade activities at Caras Park drew in a crowd on par with the throngs - about 5,000 people - who attend Out to Lunch programs each summer.

Amy Hetzler, executive director of the festival said Saturday's turnout was "spectacular."

"The energy at the parade was incredible," she said. "The beginning of the parade with all the parents and children and the drumming - it was so powerful. People came out to celebrate spring and the opening day of the festival … It was another good day in Missoula."

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