From the New Jersey Audubon
You can see Nature Nick in action at The Nature Place at Cape May Convention Hall Friday October 14th – Sunday October 16th as part of New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Fall Festival. It’s free and open to the public Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Animals are on display throughout the day and there will be three special shows each day; one on the morning and two in the afternoon.
Where do you and your animals live? How big is your property?
I actually have two properties; one in Long Island, New York that is a bit shy of two acres and one in Vero Beach Florida that is about a half acre. Both properties have large chain link pens that are built to zoo-grade specifications and are inspected annually by the USDA, which is the government arm that regulates zoos and animal exhibitors.
What time do you have to get up to take care of them all? Do they wake you up? Do you have staff or volunteers to help?
I had staff years ago but I, like many other business owners, grew frustrated with people cancelling at the last minute, showing up late, and forgetting to finish important tasks like refilling feed bowls. Many systems are automated such as lights on timers, automatic feed and watering bowls hooked up to plumbing. The main thing is to make sure everything is clean. Most diseases animals get are the result of exposure to germs, viruses, or fungal spores in the environment. This is one thing that cannot be automated so I’m constantly cleaning and disinfecting pens. Surprisingly, I’m one of the few animal people who can get up at a reasonable hour due to the efficiency of the systems I have in place.
Are there any unusual attachments between different species? Odd couples? Best buddies?
That’s an interesting question, as “odd couples” form all the time in the wild. If you watch National Geographic or Animal Planet you will see zebras, warthogs, antelope, etc. all sharing the same watering hole and sometimes their young will be playing with one another. If you go to the park, you will see multiple species of birds and squirrels bobbing and weaving around each other to get to the bread crumbs. The same concept can be accomplished in captivity which is why it’s common to see “mixed species” exhibits in zoos.
My toucan shares a pen with two red foot tortoises. She lives in the upper part of the enclosure while the two tortoises live underneath her. This situation works because both are species that can be found in the wild together out in the Amazon in Brazil. Both have the same ambiotic (temperature) requirements and similar diets.
What are the latest additions?
I actually have an animal from Argentina called a Patagonian Cavy that I’ll be bringing to Cape May this year. She weighs about 18 pounds and looks like a cross between a deer, kangaroo, and rabbit. However, she is actually a close relative to the Guinea pig!
How did you arrive at this career? Looking back, are you surprised by your success?
People are always surprised by this answer. I’ve had animals my whole life and by college I decided to start doing animal shows as a “hobby.” By that time I knew how to get licensed and knew where to go to obtain exotic animals.
On weekends I would go do a birthday party or library show here and there, while pursuing my bachelor’s degree in childhood education. By the time I graduated I had a dual degree in special education, elementary education and a minor in speech communications. But, this was in 2009 when the economy was in a nosedive. Non-tenured teachers were being laid off left and right and many school districts were implementing hiring freezes.
Things were so bad I couldn’t even get a job as a substitute teacher. At that point I decided to regroup and pursue my animal career full time. That was a difficult decision as I really questioned if I could do that full-time. So I reached out to experienced animal professionals who later became lifelong friends and mentors. They encouraged me and taught me. I wish I could say it was an overnight success but it took years of diligent work, sleepless nights, networking, fiscal planning, and long periods of financial uncertainty
One surprising success I’ve had in the past few years is appearing on TV. An issue that plagues TV casting directors when they need animals is that most actors are terrified of working with animals and many professional animal people freeze on camera. Having a background in theater and speech communications, I can learn lines and marks as fast as a professional actor. This is where I have created a unique niche where directors and producers would rather just cast me, which saves them time and stress. This is how I landed a walk-on role on Sesame Street and one on a well-known show on Amazon that will be airing in early 2023!
What’s it like to be Nature Nick??!!
People forget I’m really just a normal guy! I have to pay bills, my taxes, go grocery shopping, drop my daughter at day care and the like. I’m really no different than any other niche, home-based business. My craft just happens to be animals!
This article was paid for in part by a grant from New Jersey’s Division of Travel and Tourism.