Having fun with alligators

Jeff Quattrocchi makes a living getting in the water with one of the world’s most powerful reptiles.

Jeff Quattrocchi

Jeff Quattrocchi makes a living getting in the water with one of the world’s most powerful reptiles.

With rock and roll music blaring, the brawny 44-year-old steps onto a stage overlooking a fenced tank of water. Hidden in a corner is a small alligator — 2.4 metres long and 90 kg in weight.

The “Swampmaster” is about to show fairgoers at Red Deer’s Westerner Days just how the feisty this cold-blooded reptile can become.

He uses a stick — not to harm, but to test the gator’s reflexes — as it moves swiftly through the shallow water.

“See how he’s swinging his tail to that side,” said an exuberant Quattrocchi, during his show at the amphitheatre stage directly in front of the Centrium.

“Even a cold gator will try to bite you. That tail will try to hook me and drag me towards those jaws, which are really the gator’s only true weapon.”

At one point during the 20-minute show, he gets into the water to catch the animal. He can either approach it by the front and grab it by its nose, or do it “the fun way.”

“Get him to strike at you once or twice and try to get down on his back. That’s what I’m going to do. I have to get him in just the right spot.”

The gator flails around a little bit as Quattrocchi grabs onto its tail first. Using a few more quick manouevres, the Swampmaster straddle onto the back of the gator.

“You may have heard a little bit of hissing,” Quattrocchi said. “That’s a warning sign to stay away.”

Quattrocchi has been bitten 12 times so far in his 16-year career.

“As a kid, I got turned onto alligators due to my interest in dinosaurs,” he said.

He moved from his native Iowa to Florida to work in a small theme park.

“I got bit in the leg the second week of working there. I lost my balance and had an alligator hold onto me for two minutes. It punctured my fingers, crushed my thumb and took a big chunk out of my inner thigh.”

Today, Quattrocchi travels eight months of the year, carting the alligators by trailer from his Orlando, Fla. base.

Wild alligators are a protected species.

Quattrocchi buys his gators from farms where they are bred for their meat and hide.

“They only work in my shows for a couple of weeks and then I retire them to ponds on my farm that has 100 alligators now.”

These reptiles can reach more than four metres in length and weigh 450 kg.

Alligators have 80 teeth and swallow their small prey whole.

“Crocodiles are the man-eaters. They want to eat you.”

Crocodiles have long and pointy noses while alligator snouts are short, round and U-shaped.

Quattrocchi prides himself on being an educator of these often misinterpreted reptiles. Alligators are shy and if given the chance, would much rather run in the opposite direction than wrestle with a human.

More than two million alligators roam Florida waters. Last year, 14 attacks on humans occurred in that state.

Quattrocchi said gators will generally attack for three reasons — mother is protecting her eggs, a bull alligator is claiming its territory and because there are so many of them, there’s greater risk. Some people feed these animals, which makes them even more dangerous.

“In the state of Florida, it’s actually illegal to feed a wild alligator.”

Also on tour is another full-grown alligator, plus a four-year-old alligator named Wally, which Quattrocchi has had since birth. Members of the public typically can hold the tiny gator and have their photo taken, but due to strict provincial Fish and Wildlife rules were unable to.

One day, Quattrocchi would like to run his own stage show in Las Vegas and find the next Swampmaster through a TV reality show.

This is his third visit to Red Deer and he says he loves it.

Chip Indoe, a snake expert, initially turned Quattrocchi’s offer to help out on the Western Canadian tour. He’s having fun too.

“I grew up in Florida so I know about alligators. My mom has had alligators in the bathtub before. . . little ones.”

The Swampmaster’s Gator Show and Exhibit runs daily at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. now until Sunday.

Other Westerner Days attractions:

• Guitar Hero competition for anyone who knows how to strum takes place on Midway Boulevard daily at 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

• Canada’s Stuck on Band-Aid Perfect Fit Tour allows people to record a video and sing the famous jingle inside the mobile recording studio. It is on hand along Midway Boulevard.

• See pig races during Big Boss Hog on the Midway Boulevard daily at 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

• AFSC Livestock event starts at 9 a.m. today

• All Slots Casino and Lounge runs from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m.

• CKGY pony chuckwagon races begins at 6:30 p.m.

• Coca-Cola Livestock Pavilion begins at noon today

• Gord Bamford and George Canyone concert at 8:30 p.m. at Enmax Centrium

For information, go online at www.westernerdays.ca or call 403-343-7800

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

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