Zoom-Zoo’s lizards and pythons ready for virtual and backyard fun this summer
For many years Pat Bennatar and Reptizoo have been fixtures at the English Montreal School Board.
Reptizoo (www.reptizoo.com) gives children and adults the opportunity to interact with creatures they would otherwise only be able to see in a zoo. In normal times, Mr. Benattar brings his mobile reptile zoo to 48 classrooms and daycares, birthday parties and events every week. At each visit, the Reptizoo team showcases a variety of small or large, soft or scaly reptiles and animals that participants can touch and hold under supervision. With each species introduced, Benattar teaches about the history, evolution and important role they play in maintaining and balancing our ecosystem.
On any given visit, you may meet amphibians and arachnids (frogs, tarantulas, vinagaroons), lizards (geckos, bearded dragons), snakes (anacondas, pythons), turtles and tortoises and the occasional rabbit, hedgehogs, chinchilla and exotic bird. “Parents may find them gross or scary, but the kids love them. The reptiles challenge us and open up our minds,” said Mr. Benattar in a Zoom interview from his home in Les Cèdres.
Mr. Benattar has been fascinated by reptiles ever since he was a child and spent endless hours catching salamanders, turtles and frogs while visiting the country. “My parents encouraged it,” he said. “Reptiles are very mysterious and there are a lot of things we don’t know about them that we continue to discover.”
Reptizoo’s in-person visits came to a halt on March 13 when the province closed down. Mr. Bennatar quickly reinvented his program, now bringing his exotic reptile and small animal program right to the home via Zoom. To his great surprise, it has been a big hit. “Usually we are very hands-on, but the kids have been very receptive to online learning,” he said, adding that virtual sessions are 40 minutes compared to the usual hour. To compensate for not being able to hold the reptiles, Benattar shows more animals than usual.
With changing regulations, Mr. Benattar is also now able to facilitate small outdoor gatherings of 10 people where reptiles can be shown but not touched. While camp will look very different this summer, Reptizoo is ready to bring some fun and fascination to campers, be it online or on-site. They are offering bi-weekly Zoom-Zoo session all summer long.
An animal lover at heart, when asked which reptile in his menagerie is his favourite, Mr. Benattar could not choose one. “My favourite is the one I’m working with at the time,” he said. “When I put him down, the next one becomes my favourite, As for kids, the answer comes a little easier. They love the snakes. In a regular 10-week class, they will begin by getting acquainted with a little snake and by the end of the course, they proudly drape a seven-foot python on their shoulders.”
Mr. Benattar and his team of staff and volunteers pay great attention to comfort levels. They keep a close eye on the fear factor and make everyone feel at ease until they warm up to the reptiles. “People either love or loathe reptiles, but they are definitely always fascinated by them,” he added.
The Reptizoo collection ranges in age, with the eldest being a 75-year-old box turtle. They also have a 32-year-old royal python that retired eight years ago. Mr. Benattar chooses reptiles that are not easily stressed, making them excellent candidates to interact with children and adults. Many were donated to Mr. Benattar knowing he would provide them a good home. Others were acquired from rescue organizations or breeders. Very few are from the wild.
So, take a deep breath and get ready to enter the mysterious land of Reptizoo. While reptiles do not have facial expressions, they will surely change yours as you witness something fascinating and magical!
For more information, to book Reptizoo online, at camp or in your backyard, or to sign your child up for Zoom-Zoo (one session is $10, a package of 10 is $90), visit www.reptizoo.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voice message at 450-452-4966.