Kachunga alligators bring a quiver to the river

Kachunga and the Alligator will bring excitement and education to festival-goers at RiverFest 2019 for four days of shows starting Thursday. Photo courtesy of Kachunga

Still time for tickets and to register for RiverFest 2019 games and Rack on the River

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – It’s okay to go to the water’s edge at RiverFest 2019 to skip a rock or enjoy the vista, but during this year’s festival stay in your seat at the Kachunga and the Alligator Show.

Billed by the Detroit News as “The #1 reason to attend the Michigan State Fair!”, the committee for RiverFest 2019 Presented by Frank Millard & Co. Inc., has brought an American bushman to Riverview Park to wrestle with 300lbs of reptile, right in your face.

Kachunga bushman Bert Lucas says the 25-minute shows will be educational, with a little bit of humor and a lot of caution.

Photo courtesy of Kachunga.com

One of the alligators in the show this week has only been with the program for two months and is still very wild.

“We have one that is just two months with us, and the other one we’ve had for about a year. The one that was caught two months ago has never been used in a show, so in his mind he’s gonna die and he’s going to defend himself with his life,” Lucas said.

He said fans will hear, and actually see, how the defense mechanisms are trigged with American alligators, which he said is geared toward a better understanding of their instincts and behaviors.

That understanding will help protect people who venture into the southeastern United States on vacations and trips to stay safe when around those waterways.

Lucas said there were three fatalities with alligators in the US last year alone, and four years ago a two-year-old boy was killed at a Disney World resort.

“Florida has seen their fare share of attacks and fatalities,” he said. “One of the more prominent one was four years ago when a family from Nebraska was visiting Disney World staying at a resort and the boy was killed by a 7-foot alligator.”

Lucas said the boy got down close to a water’s edge on the resort at about dusk when alligators get active and the tragedy occurred.

“As a result of people feeding alligators at the resort, the alligator had lost its fear of humans and saw a two-year-old playing at the water’s edge about this time at night, which is when they start getting active,” Lucas said.

“A little bit of knowledge goes a long way. We try to educate people as how they can avoid being in that situation. It was heartbreaking for me to know that a two-year-old lost his life to an alligator.”

Two of the three deaths in 2018 were both woman who had encounters with alligators that had been fed by humans and were walking their dogs next to inhabited waters.

“One woman tried to beat off the alligator to protect her dog and ended up being the fatality and the dog lived,” he said. “I get it – I would fight for my dog’s life, but you also have to realize that’s an unwinnable battle. You gotta a 10-foot alligator that’s got a hold of your dog, you’re not going to win that battle.”

Photo courtesy of Kachunga.com

The show has been running for 38 years and started as a outreach program in Florida for schools to help educate kids about the animals and the beauty and dangers associated with them.

“The main message is don’t go near the water’s edge, don’t feed the alligators and always assume that if you see him, he may have been fed by someone,” he said, “Naturally they have a fear of humans, but if there is one standing by the water’s edge and you’re at the bank that means someone has conditioned that animal to not be afraid of you and that’s where the problems start.”

Gil Castillo started the show in 1982 and Lucas joined in 1992 where it was then developed into a traveling show for fairs and festivals across the United States.

Lucas will bring one of the two 8-foot alligators into a 20’x 20′ pool set up among bleachers just east of the Mohrfeld Electric Mainstage area on the festival grounds. The bushman, then gets in the water with the animal and while teaching spectators about the animals, provides some nail-biting entertainment as well.

The show will also feature a 3-foot albino alligator, one of only about 100 in the world and festival-goers will be able to get a picture with, and even hold, the reptile. All of the wild alligators in the show were donated to the program by nuisance trappers in Florida.

The shows will be 25 minute shows from beginning to end. With two shows on Thursday 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.; two shows Friday 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Saturday 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Other RiverFest 2019 News

There are still openings at the RiverFest 2019 games and events.

You can register online for Saturday’s 5K Run/Walk and Pancake breakfast, as well as the sand volleyball tournament, the Kan Jam tournament, and the Cornhole/Bags tournament that has a large cash payout this year.

This year’s tournament is played on Sunday beginning at noon with registration closed at 11:45, on the scenic Riverview Walkway and will feature 10 boards played at 27-feet with a payout of over $2,000 based on 40 teams.

There is also still room for BBQ teams to come down and challenge in the first-ever Racks in the River. The event is held at the east end of Riverview Park and is $50 per team plus meat. Cash prizes based on participation will be awared to the top three judged teams with KCBS judging rules in play. Gates open to the public for tasting at 11 a.m. The public can have unlimited sampling for $5.

Official rules and signup can be found at www.riverfestfm.com. You can find a full schedule of events at www.riverfestfm.com.

Thursday’s Music Lineup

Battle of the Bands winner Living Lucid opens the 2019 festival on the Mohrfeld Electric Main Stage at 6 p.m. followed by alternative rockers Burden of the Sky out of Bloomington, Ill. at 7:30 and then Thursday’s headliner Puddle of Mudd is set to play beginning at 9 p.m.

Burlington’s Ghost of Judas will take on the late night crowd in the Budweiser South Stage starting at 10:30 p.m.

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