SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Nicke “Nature Nick” Jacinto, known as News 12 Long Island’s resident animal expert, offers programs at schools, libraries, camps, fairs and parties, and has appeared on television shows such as Good Day NY! He visited Springfield Public Library on Thursday, June 29 to introduce some exotic animals.
“The tawny owl is one of the rarest animals in the world,” Jacinto said at the library event. “They’re nocturnal and live in Russia. Its cousin is the screeching owl. These birds have amazing eyesight and hearing. They could read an iPad or iPhone from 2 miles away, if they could read. They are the dumbest birds on the planet because their eyes are so big and take up so much room in their heads that their brains can’t grow very large. Their eyes are also fixed so they can’t move their eyes. They have to move their entire neck to see in different directions. They have 14 bones in their neck, which makes it easy for them to spin their heads as far as possible to the left and right.”
The baby owl flapped its wings, but didn’t make a sound.
Another rare animal Nature Nick introduced was the mata mata turtle.
“‘Mata mata’ is Spanish for ‘killer killer,’” Jacinto said. “It’s a carnivore that preys on fish in the Amazon River. Unlike most turtles, it doesn’t use its shell for protection. Instead it uses its shell for camouflage. The turtle has a long neck which it uses to suck water and fish down its throat. It’s a close cousin of the snapping turtle.”
Most of Nature Nick’s animals view him as a parental figure except for one who sees him as more of a significant other, he said.
“The squirrel monkey is considered the cutest monkey in the world,” Jacinto said. “Unlike the other animals, he doesn’t view me as a parental figure. Instead, he looks at me as his husband or wife. He is very protective of me. If anyone gets too close, he will get very upset and might even attack. My wife had to learn that the hard way!”
The monkey was rewarded with marshmallows as it’s one of the few animals that can taste sugar. Each animal had its own story about how they came to be in Nature Nick’s crew. The monkey was an illegal pet in New York that was given to Nature Nick by the authorities. Since Nature Nick is licensed to work with animals, he is legally able to own exotic pets.
“Another baby animal I have with me is called a ‘joey,’” Jacinto said. “It’s an eastern gray kangaroo that fell out its mother’s pouch at a zoo in Florida. The mother was never identified so he came to live with me. I give him a bottle three times a day and he hangs in a playpen right near my bed.
“When these kangaroos are first born, they’re the size of a jellybean. That’s why they need to be protected by their mother’s pouch. Kangaroos got their name when tourists asked the natives what the animal was called and they responded by saying, ‘kangaroo,’ which meant ‘I don’t know what you’re saying,’ in their language.”
Volunteers from the audience had the opportunity to hold the baby kangaroo, which was sucking on its toe for comfort as human babies suck their thumbs.
According to Springfield Library Director Dale Spindel, the visit from Nature Nick was a popular event; he said in a June 29 phone interview, “We had over 100 guests attend the show. Kids love to touch and see animals, especially those that they might not have the opportunity to experience without a program like this.”
Spindel said the Springfield Library has more events for children scheduled throughout the summer.