Students experience exotic wildlife

“Goliath, head up!” Todd Drever said, as a 15-foot-long, 1,700-pound American alligator lifted its bone-crushing jaws into the air during an in-water training session.

The 46-year-old conservationist, locally known as Safari Todd, rewarded the seemingly ancient predator with a piece of raw chicken before asking the reptile to perform another behavior.

Drever, who serves as the director of education and entertainment at Jungle Adventures Nature Park in Christmas, Fla., uses a form of behavior modification known as positive reinforcement to train the park’s 200 alligators to perform a handful of basic behaviors.
Long before the arrival of Disney, Universal and SeaWorld, dozens of roadside attractions once hugged the highways of Central Florida.

The 22-acre wildlife park, just 17 miles east of UCF, offers visitors a glimpse into this bygone era. Hands-On Wildlife Safari is a not-for-profit educational organization based at the park. The group serves as a mobile zoo, regularly performing wildlife presentations at area resorts, schools and nursing homes.

“The reality is, somebody did this for me a long time ago, and I think it’s important to give that opportunity back,” Drever said.
“I have 10 more years in this industry and then after that, my body is not going to be able to handle it,” he said. “If I don’t give it to them, it’s gone.”

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