When Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin met 8-foot-long, more-than-200-pound Bubba the alligator, his words to Bubba's owner were, "Jim, crikey! How'd you train the bloke? Tell me, mate!"
Jim Nesci, who brings his show Cold Blooded Creatures to Naperville this weekend, has been training Bubba and other reptiles for the past 35 years, performing for birthday parties, schools and other events.
If you goWhat: Cold Blooded Creatures reptile show
When: 4 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday, July 1 and 3
Where: Naperville's Knoch Park, in the Naperville Bank and Trust and Junior Savers family area of Ribfest
Cost: Free with Ribfest admission
Info: coldbloodedcreatures.com and ribfest.net
"The show dispels myth and superstition surrounding the reptile world," he said.
Nesci will be at the Naperville Exchange Club's Ribfest celebration at 4 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday, July 1 and 3, in Knoch Park near downtown. The show will take place in the Naperville Bank and Trust and Junior Savers family area and is part of the full lineup of entertainment for the festival, which runs from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday to Tuesday, June 30 to July 3.
Nesci brings a variety of reptiles for kids to touch, hold and interact with, including tortoises, lizards, snakes and crocodilians. The animals are his pets and live in his home in Homer Glen, where he gives tours.
The show is not just for children. "It's as much, if not more, for adults," Nesci said.
Nesci appeared twice on "Oprah" and also has made appearances on Animal Planet, "The Tonight Show," HGTV, "Regis and Kelly" and the "Today" show. He has spoken on various radio shows and guest lectured at The Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo and The Academy of Sciences.
His fascination with reptiles began at a young age when, living in Chicago, he would catch garter snakes.
"I couldn't understand why people were afraid of them," Nesci said. "I realized what a void there was. Most people don't know anything about them."
Nesci also was fascinated by the knowledge that crocodiles were around even before dinosaurs.
"For me, it was like walking around with a living dinosaur," he said.
One of the myths Nesci tries to dispel is that reptiles are stupid because they have small brains.
"My first thought is 'wait a minute, we have big brains, but we don't use them,'" he said. "They are way more intelligent than what the supposed experts once thought."
In fact, Nesci says Bubba the alligator understands him, doesn't like being scolded, responds to his body language and listens to him better than his dog does. Bubba can get up, walk, sit and climb into Nesci's van on command.
"Simple things, but things that people take a look at and are amazed at," he said. "Bubba the alligator is a legend."
Snakes are another underappreciated animal, Nesci said.
Snakes kill rodents and thus get rid of many of the diseases they spread. Nesci said few people know the bubonic plague is making a comeback, something that may be attributed to the disappearance of snakes.
"Snakes are very important to the ecosystem," Nesci said. "I always felt that if I could stop one person from killing a snake in their yard, that was a good thing."
Nesci said the first part of training the reptiles is building a relationship with them and looking at their personalities to see which individual animals would work best for the program.
Too many people believe what they see on TV and think the worst-case scenarios are the norm, he said.
"Crocodiles and snakes are as individual as we are," Nesci said. "We're all different; animals are no different. People paint with a broad brush and don't look at animals as individuals."
Nesci said people are always amazed at the show and how he has trained the reptiles.
"They always tell me 'I had no idea,'" he said.
Nesci said there is too much poor information out there, so he tries to put animals in a fair and balanced light.
"Nature is important," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people don't take the time to really enjoy it."