When “Nature” Nick Jacinto was about 10 years old, he saw one of Marc Morrone’s animal shows. Jacinto never imagined that years later he would casually call Morrone for advice in his own endeavors as an animal trainer and entertainer.
Now at 25, Jacinto is the founder and owner of Animal Adventures, an educational animal show. He does shows for private birthday parties, schools, libraries, Cub Scout groups, museums, farms and even allows some of his exotic animals to be rented to television shows.
“All my animals are my babies, my kids—all spoiled,” Jacinto said.
During the shows, Jacinto features 10 to 12 animals that he displays either on a table, in his arms or in the arms of a volunteer. While the animals are out, Jacinto shares facts, history and sometimes his own personal experiences with the audience.
All of Jacinto’s animals are kept in what was originally a guest house and a smaller building behind his home in Sound Beach, N.Y. He has a squirrel monkey, a lemur, two wallabies, snakes, a small alligator, a fox, birds and more. The buildings are air conditioned and heated to accommodate the animals as the weather changes.
From one building the kookaburra, a bird commonly found in Australia, does its loud and distinctive call while a parrot named Lady Juanita laughs hysterically. From the other building, furry creatures, like Tarzan the squirrel monkey and Pinocchio the coatimundi—an animal in the raccoon family, are restless in their green cages.
Jacinto began his business as a part-time job during college. He studied early childhood education and planned to become a teacher. Starting the business was not as simple as he thought it would be.
“It was challenging just because I didn’t have a background in animals per se—my degrees were in speech communications and child study and elementary education—so it was really a calling.”
In the beginning he made some mistakes in caring for the animals he worked with and how he managed his business. Business started out slow and he launched it at a bad financial time for many small businesses in America.
“I chose the worst possible timing to go into the business world—which was probably the end of 2007, beginning of 2008—and we all know what happened in August 2008 with the stock market crash,” he said. “Me being the 18-year-old kid I figured, ‘Won’t affect me at all,’ and it really did.”
Although Jacinto isn’t certain whether or not it was the timing or just the fact that it was a new business, he knew there was someone he could call.
Morrone helped Jacinto take care of animals, purchase animals and taught him some of the tricks to the business side of being an animal trainer and entertainer—although Morrone said a lot of what you learn about a business is through “the school of hard knocks.”
He said he helped Jacinto because he was flattered.
“The kid loved me,” said Morrone, 53. “He wanted to be just like me—my own kids were embarrassed by me.”
Morrone recalls telling Jacinto to become a teacher or get a federal civil service job because this kind of work gets mores difficult as you get older. He said it’s hard to abandon your responsibilities of caring for the animals and the number of people who want something like an animal birthday party is dwindling.
But Jacinto doesn’t do it alone. He has two assistants, one of whom is 22-year-old Liz Anger. Anger lives about two blocks away from Jacinto and primarily helps with cleaning. She’s been working with Jacinto for about two years.
“It’s been really cool,” she said. “It’s really cool seeing all the different animals and Nick’s really nice. He’s a good boss.”
Anger’s job with Nick was her first experience working with exotic animals, which she said really “pushed me in the right direction.”
Looking back, Jacinto said he appreciated just how his parents handled his interest in animals.
“Oh, God bless them. They tolerated me pretty well—I think better than I would. They put up with it pretty well, they’ve always been very supportive even into my adulthood. I love them very much and I do give them a lot of credit for that.”
But not everyone has been supportive of Jacinto’s animal business.
“As I’ve done this I’ve found that the animal rights groups—they really don’t like what I have to do and they always have something to say. And the only reason for that in my opinion is that they don’t understand what is humane and what is not,” he said. “The only way to deal with it is really to just explain to them that I’m not doing any thing illegal.”
Jacinto recalled a time when the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) tried to stop his show at a children’s museum. He said he finds the accusations of treating his animals inhumanely insulting because he has raised many of his animals since they were babies. He also brought up the point that many of the animals he gets are surplus animals from places like zoos. Once in those kinds of environments, they are very unlikely to survive should they be let loose in the wild.
With two licenses—one from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and another from the United States Department of Agriculture—Jacinto said, if doing work like he does is bad, there wouldn’t be licenses available to people like him.
Despite the criticism, Jacinto said he’s proud of his work and would one day like to own a larger piece of land to house more animals.
“The most rewarding part of doing this would have to be just the expressions on people’s faces when I take the animals out,” he said, adding that “the sleepless nights and all the studying and all the drives to the airport in the middle of the night and feeding them, taking care of them, really makes it all worth it when I see that during the programs.”