Safari Jeff holds Bagheera

Safari Jeff holds Bagheera

Live critters are big draw at show

An African spurred tortoise called Father Time and Leche, the Cuban rock iguana, were among the biggest kid magnets at the Red Deer Sportsman and Outdoor Adventure Show this weekend.

An African spurred tortoise called Father Time and Leche, the Cuban rock iguana, were among the biggest kid magnets at the Red Deer Sportsman and Outdoor Adventure Show this weekend.

Despite the sight of taxiderm-ed deer and mountain goats at various trade show booths at the Westerner, children gravitated to the live animals every time — which doesn’t surprise Safari Jeff in the least.

The reptile show host, who recently relocated his family and menagerie of critters to Red Deer from Kamloops, B.C., knows from experience that the creatures kids find most fascinating are the ones they can engage with.

Jeff McKay routinely asks tykes at the end of his hands-on educational shows, “which animal was your favourite? And they almost always say the one they got the closest to . . .

“If they come nose-to-nose or touch something, it’s that experience, that personal contact, that makes the difference,” said McKay, who has been talking about reptiles for most of his life.

He said the goal of his live shows is to impart the idea that everything has a place in the ecosystem, even an anxiety inducing eight-foot boa constrictor, like his albino snake Bonita.

Although all of his dozen reptiles — including a cool, turquoise, turncoat of a chameleon — were born in captivity, McKay understands that many wild creatures are losing their rightful place in nature.

For instance, he believes the recent discovery of rats near Medicine Hat indicates too many snakes have been eradicated from that part of the province.

“Medicine Hat is the capital of Canada for bull snakes and rattle snakes, so I thought people there would have a better understanding.” But McKay found the opposite was true — there was more fearfulness in the community.

He hopes some good comes out of the rat infestation: “After years of killing snakes out of fear, more people will realize they have a place.”

McKay grew up in Ottawa, fascinated by creatures scaly and slimy.

He recalls overturning rocks and logs at the family cottage to find salamanders and frogs.

At age 13, he asked his parents for an crocodile. Rather than turning him down, his mother sent him to talk to a reptile expert at Ottawa’s natural history museum.

McKay recalled so impressing the herpetologist with his knowledge of reptiles and amphibians that he was asked to become a volunteer interpreter — a role he held for years. “And a week later, I got my crocodile,” he added.

Today, Safari Jeff doesn’t advocate owning exotic pets, and stresses he would never own a reptile for which he couldn’t create a proper environment.

He hopes his show instills a conservation message in kids and adults.

“I have hunted and fished all my life . . . for the purpose of eating. I was raised by my parents to respect wildlife and just take what you need.”

The married father of a young son and daughter said he moved his family to Red Deer because of its central location, which he said, will make touring easier across Western Canada in the winter and to Eastern Canada in the summer.

“And we really love the people here,” added McKay, who’s friends with Gordie Johnson of the group Big Sugar.

Johnson, who lives between Auston, Tx., and Red Deer, gave him a good review of this community, added McKay, who also appreciates Red Deer’s size.

McKay revealed he has plans by early 2015 to open a reptile cafe and play zone for kids in Red Deer. He’s still seeking a location.

Part of his motivation is the chance to raise his family with less time spent touring.

The reptile show host, who performs more than 220 live shows a year and has appeared on YTV’s The Zone, Canada AM, The Pet Guys, and other TV shows, said

“I’ve been doing this for 27 years across Canada. I’m looking to slow down and get off the road, set up something full-time.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Red Deer College has been upgrading roofing, mechanical control systems, and lighting with $13 million in capital maintenance funding from the province. (Photo by Advocate staff)
$13 million in maintenance work underway at Red Deer College

Projects improve teaching, learning, and working spaces

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waits to take his seat at the EU-Canada Summit Monday June 14, 2021 in Brussels, Belgium. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau to visit Pfizer on final day of international pandemic trip, begin quarantine

WTO looks at making it easier for developing countries to import expertise, equipment and ingredients for vaccines

Houses under construction in Toronto on Friday, June 26, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CMHC says annual pace of housing starts rose 3.2 per cent in May compared with April

Starts for apartments, condos and other multiple-unit housing projects rose

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2013 file photo, customers leave an IKEA store in Plaisir, west of Paris. A French court has ordered home furnishings giant Ikea to pay more than $1.2 million in fines and damages Tuesday, June 15, 2021 over a campaign to spy on union representatives. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, FIle)
Ikea fined $1.3 million over spying campaign in France

Convicted of receiving personal data obtained through fraudulent means in a habitual way

In this undated file photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of Defense, a Chinese PLA J-16 fighter jet flies in an undisclosed location. China sent a record 28 fighter jets, 14 of them J-16s, towards the self-ruled island of Taiwan on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, the island’s defense ministry said, the largest such display of force since China started flying planes towards the island last year. (Taiwan Ministry of Defense via AP)
China sends record 28 fighter jets toward Taiwan

Since last year, China has been flying fighter jets toward the island almost daily

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Finnish players celebrate with their fans after the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Denmark, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Finland won 1-0. (Friedemann Vogel/Pool via AP)
Finland plays Russia with Euro 2020 knockout stage in reach

Finns played in their first ever game at a major soccer tournament

Scotland’s Allan Dell (1) is tackled by Canada’s Matt Heaton (7) and Lucas Rumball (6) during first half action of men’s international rugby in Edmonton, Alta., on June 9, 2018. Heaton, of Rugby ATL, Ben LeSage and Lucas Rumball, both of the Toronto Arrows, will co-captain Canada next month for rugby test matches in Wales and England. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canada names 30-man roster for July rugby internationals against Wales, England

July test marks the first games for Canadian men since October 2019 at the Rugby World Cup

Montreal’s Deanna Bowen, seen in an undated handout photo, has won the $50,000 annual Scotiabank Photography Award. Award organizers say Bowen’s family history has been a central part of her work since the early 1990s. She’s descended from Alabama and Kentucky-born Black Prairie pioneer families from the central Alberta communities of Amber Valley and Campsie. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Courtesy of the artist
Montreal’s Deanna Bowen wins $50,000 Scotiabank Photography Award

Bowen to receive solo exhibition at 2022 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival

Treena Mielke
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) blocks a shot by Vegas Golden Knights left wing William Carrier (28) during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday in Las Vegas. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Canadiens take 4-1 loss to Vegas Golden Knights in Stanley Cup semifinal opener

Golden Knights 4 Canadiens 1 (Las Vegas leads series 1-0) LAS VEGAS… Continue reading

Philadelphia 76ers' coach Doc Rivers yells to his players during the first half of Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Monday, June 14, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Young leads Hawks’ rally past Sixers with Embiid hurting

Hawks 103 76ers 100 ATLANTA — Trae Young overcame a cold start… Continue reading

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler pushes away Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Cariel Brooks during the second half of the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, November 24, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
CFL board of governors votes unanimously to start 2021 season in August after meeting

The CFL says professional football will return to Canada in August. The… Continue reading

Most Read