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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People board and leave at the Century Park light-rail transit station in Edmonton on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Growing number of attacks against Black Muslim women

‘Racism is a real problem:’ Growing number of attacks against Black Muslim women

Alberta Health Services declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Revera Aspen Ridge on Feb. 1. (Photo by Advocate staff)
Two COVID deaths linked to Revera seniors residence in Red Deer

35 active COVID cases at seniors residence

Red Deer musician Lorry Boschman has written a song about love in the time of COVID-19. Proceeds from his single, Romance during a Pandemic, will be donated to the local United Way. (Contributed photo).
Local musician records a song about love in the time of COVID-19 — for charity

Lorry Boschman will donate some proceeds to the United Way

Preliminary data shows Alberta’s suicide rate declined in 2020 — but some mental health critics say it’s too early to draw any conclusions since more dire pandemic impacts are only now being felt. (metrocreative stock)
Alberta’s suicide rate seems to have declined in 2020

But some experts say it’s too early to credit the pandemic

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre can accommodate up to 20 patients requiring a ventilator, says Alberta Health Services.  File photo by Advocate staff
Opinion: UCP government reneging on Red Deer hospital funding

Another year, another Alberta budget and another blow to central Albertans. Budget… Continue reading

Seattle Storm guards Sue Bird, right, and Jordin Canada pose for photos Wednesday, March 3, 2021, on the roof of the Space Needle in Seattle after they raised a flag with the team's new logo on it. Bird re-signed with the Storm earlier in the week. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Sue Bird staying busy with 20th Seattle season on horizon

Sue Bird staying busy with 20th Seattle season on horizon

Lille players celebrate after Jonathan David scored his side's second goal during the French League One soccer match between Lille and Marseille at the Stade Pierre Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, France, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
David scores 2 as Lille wins to stay two points clear of PSG

David scores 2 as Lille wins to stay two points clear of PSG

Canada defender Shelina Zadorsky, right, passes the ball in front of Argentina forward Sole Jaimes (9) during the second half of a SheBelieves Cup women's soccer match, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Alphonso Davies and Shelina Zadorsky have been named Canada Soccer’s players of the month for February. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Phelan M. Ebenhack
Davies, Zadorsky named Canada Soccer’s players of the month for February

Davies, Zadorsky named Canada Soccer’s players of the month for February

Manchester United's Fred, left, and Crystal Palace's Jordan Ayew challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park stadium in London, England, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Mike Hewitt/Pool via AP)
Grueling season starting to catch up with Man U, Leicester

Grueling season starting to catch up with Man U, Leicester

Gary Sanchez goes deep, Yankees hit three home runs to beat Blue Jays 4-1

Gary Sanchez goes deep, Yankees hit three home runs to beat Blue Jays 4-1

Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) dunks as Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The undermanned Toronto Raptors, down five players and six members of their coaching staff due to health and safety protocols, are scheduled to host the Detroit Pistons in their first action since last Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Carlos Osorio
Powell, Lowry do their bit but undermanned Raptors beaten handily by the Pistons

Powell, Lowry do their bit but undermanned Raptors beaten handily by the Pistons

Canada's Ghislaine Landry, left, runs past France players during the Women's Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco, Friday, July 20, 2018. The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, grounded last year by the pandemic, will return for the women in May. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Chiu
World Rugby unveils condensed 2021 sevens schedule with Vancouver a question-mark

World Rugby unveils condensed 2021 sevens schedule with Vancouver a question-mark

Most Read