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

Updated: SUV smashes through fences and deck in Anders

Driver taken to hospital after SUV veered off 30th Avenue into Anders

Red Deer’s new ‘equity co-ordinator’ will promote tolerance

Andrea Lacoursiere was hired by city with Alberta Human Rights funding

More bridge work this summer in Red Deer’s Coronation Park

The park’s north bridge is being rebuilt to ensure safety

Man badly injured in off-road vehicle collision on Saturday

Incident happened in Mountain View County about 10:50 p.m.

Heat warning in effect for Central Alberta

Environment Canada has issued a heat warning for Central Alberta. Residents in… Continue reading

CFIA inspects after video shows pigs crammed into B.C. transport truck

The video shows pigs piled on top of one another in a transport truck on a “sweltering” hot day last week

Research expedition looks at unseen depths of Labrador Sea ecosystem

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Last summer, a team of scientists returned from… Continue reading

Protesters camped outside Saskatchewan legislature taking province to court

REGINA — Protesters camped outside the Saskatchewan legislature say they are taking… Continue reading

British PM accepts key amendments from hardline Brexiteers

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday accepted amendments to… Continue reading

‘City of icebergs:’ Study says 100s of Arctic glaciers shrinking, disappearing

The statistics in her recently published paper say it all: hundreds of… Continue reading

U.S. hits back with WTO challenge against Canada’s retaliatory tariffs

OTTAWA — The United States fired back Monday at the Canadian government’s… Continue reading

Croatia gears up to give heroes’ welcome to World Cup team

ZAGREB, Croatia — Fans are pouring in from throughout the country as… Continue reading

Statelessness a hurdle for some rescued Thai boy

MAE SAI, Thailand — The 12 boys and coach of the Wild… Continue reading

Lobbying commissioner rejects complaints against firearms panel member

OTTAWA — A federal watchdog has dismissed complaints that a mass-shooting survivor… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month