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BIG LITTLE MASCOT: Friends of the Channel...

BIG LITTLE MASCOT: Friends of the Channel Islands, a nonprofit group, have a case of the warm fuzzies over the recent discovery of a rare pygmy mammoth fossil on Santa Rosa Island. They hope the skeletal remains will be just the ticket to lure visitors to the underappreciated islands (B1) . . . Already, T-shirts and lapel pins featuring the little critter’s likeness are being worked up. Proceeds will help pay for a mold of the fossil for display at the Channel Island Visitors Center. . . . “It’s amazing the number of people born and raised here who have never been to the islands,” said group president Felice Ginsberg.

ISLAND TOUR: Santa Rosa Island’s mammoth fossil has already attracted one important visitor: Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking flew to the island last weekend. . . . Steep terrain prevented Hawking, who uses a wheelchair, from getting close to the excavation site. But Channel Islands Aviation pilot Bud Jourden said the best-selling author took a whirlwind tour of other wonders on the island.

LOOKING GOOD: They’re big, hairy, hungry--and they may be lumbering soon to a rural Ventura County neighborhood near you. California black bears, fat from feeding on avocados, are reproducing big-time. (Ventura County Life, Page 8). . . . Besides plumping up the bears, the avocados provide a cosmetic side benefit: glossy fur. “There are some exceptionally large bears up there with nice shiny coats,” said state Fish and Game biologist Morgan Boucke.

OTB TV: Who says too much TV is a bad thing? Folks at Ventura County’s new off-track betting facility might beg to differ. . . . Closed-circuit televisions will be everywhere at the $5.4-million Watch & Wager center--the better to enable fans to watch the races when the facility opens next January. “That’s our primary product,” Seaside Park General Manager Michael Paluszak said. With more than 200 TVs showing races and statistics, fans should see plenty of action.

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