Gator man reaches kids, elderly through reptiles

Ken Henderson introduces Anthony Dattoli to a baby alligator outside of his tent at the Kingdom of Callaway Fair. Henderson, formerly a resident of Callaway, has toured all over the nation, teaching people young and old about reptiles.

Ken Henderson introduces Anthony Dattoli to a baby alligator outside of his tent at the Kingdom of Callaway Fair. Henderson, formerly a resident of Callaway, has toured all over the nation, teaching people young and old about reptiles. Photo by Dean Asher.

Amid the familiar deep-fried candy bars, face painters and game vendors crowding the fair this year is a rather unusual sight for mid-Missouri. Brave fairgoers adventurous enough to wander into the seemingly unassuming white tent in the middle of the fairgrounds get to bump shoulders with some tamed, reptilian friends.

The tent belongs to Ken Henderson, a Missouri-born pastor and animal education activist currently based out of North Pole, Alaska, who boasts to feature the “world’s tamest alligators.” In his tent are five of the creatures — some young and small enough to fit in your hands, others upwards of three feet long — as well as seven turtles and tortoises, and a snake.

Henderson tours the country with his mobile herpetarium, visiting schools and nursing homes to educate people of all ages about cold-blooded critters. Henderson has been featured on Animal Planet, as well as countless publications across the nation.

“We can learn from the animal world how to harmonize,” said Henderson. “Reptiles are not playful, but they teach kids patience. Animals are great teachers, but we usually think they have to learn from us, instead of what we can learn from them.”

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