Animal show slithers into St. Albert Centre
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 06:00 am
It never fails to amaze how little girls spotting a snake belt out a scream while little boys can’t wait to pick it up.
Despite the gender divide, most people have an ongoing fascination with reptiles and amphibians that never seems to decline.
Starting Thursday Safari Jeff introduces us to the exotic and compelling reptilian world in his 25th anniversary Animology Tour stopping at St. Albert Centre for a four-day visit.
He presents a live show combined with exhibits and cinematography dubbed Living Wild with Safari Jeff and Shannon.
It’s what Safari Jeff a.k.a. Jeff McKay calls “edutainment” a polished combination of education and entertainment. The 30-minute show features not only live animals, but a multi-media flat screen TV, lights, sound, life-sized dinosaur bone replicas, original artwork and creative props.
“We want to put the focus on the balance of nature. It’s a great opportunity for all to have a greater appreciation of nature,” McKay explains.
With wife Shannon, McKay makes Kamloops his home base. The couple owns a few acres of desert land near the Thompson River. It is there that the exotics are housed: lizards, snakes, frogs, alligators, salamanders and a 65 pound dry land tortoise named Father Time.
In addition to providing free range for the animals, the acreage sustains three gardens. One is for the family and two feature kale, romaine, lettuce and beans for the reptiles and amphibians.
Dedicated to wildlife conservation, the McKays only adopt animals bred in Canadian zoos.
“At no point do we take animals from the wild,” McKay said.
The McKays travel in a large tour bus that accommodates the entire menagerie.
“With all the animals, there is little space for the driver, but it enables me to take care of them efficiently.”
McKay grew up near Ottawa spending summer through fall at the family cottage catching snakes and salamanders.
At age 13 McKay volunteered at the herpetology (study of reptiles and amphibians) lab in the Museum of Natural Sciences. He worked with some of the world’s foremost herpetology scientists and learned a great deal.
“But I had my frustrations. The scientists at the time would pickle and preserve and study the animals. I wanted to keep them alive and present them,” he said.
At 15, he gave a presentation on reptiles to a local public library that lasted three hours.
“People were fascinated,” he said. “It was a great success and weeks later they offered me a six-week tour of libraries across Ontario.”
At 18 the young adventurer had the opportunity to work at a biology station in Costa Rica.
“It was really enlightening. Instead of caring for pets, I could observe the exotics in their natural habitat.”
In Costa Rica, McKay met Shannon and the naturalists decided to make the Central American country their home. While Shannon operated a bed and breakfast, Jeff took visitors on tours of mangrove swamps.
With a shortage of cash flow, the young couple shelved their romantic dreams and flew to Calgary where relatives eagerly awaited to help them settle in.
“I remember approaching a mall with some pencil sketches and they offered me a one-week spring break contract,” he said.
With a group of reptiles and amphibians, he performed seven shows a day for a week.
“It was physically exhausting. But there were so many shows and it was so popular, word of mouth spread quickly and built it,” he said.
To enhance their show, the couple, also avid cinematographers, travel to Costa Rica and Mexico to film the diversity of animals in their natural environment.
“The more you learn, the more confident you will be whether they are in the forest in your backyard or the creatures in your garden,” he said.
The show runs Feb. 21 to 24. Thursday and Friday show times are 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday show times are 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.