Originally created 02/22/98

Tailless gator newest feature at cookin' show



Move over, Okefenokee Joe. Here comes Bwana Jim and his traveling alligator show to the ninth annual Cookin' for Kids Wild Game and Fish Cookoff on March 7 at Julian Smith Casino.

While Okefenokee Joe's "Swampwise" message is to respect -- not be terrified of -- snakes, which are mostly beneficial, Bwana Jim Moulton of St. Augustine, Fla., describes his half-hour show "as comedy, but informative."

Bwana Jim and his wife, Linda, head north during the summer months "to show folks what the Florida Chamber of Commerce doesn't want 'em to know about."

Their traveling companions include foot-long Bob, an alligator born without a tail.

"He lost it during the Florida-Georgia football game last year," jokes Bwana Jim, 50, who shades his 6-foot-2, 140-pound frame with a pith helmet atop his head.

Moulton got his start in the gator business in 1979 when the late herpetologist Ross Allen, who headed the Reptile Institute at Silver Springs near Ocala, Fla., had a contract to work with the "inmates" at St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

"He hired me at $2.10 an hour to clean the gator pens and then feed the critters," Moulton said during a telephone interview. "Thirteen years ago, I started my own business -- Have Alligator, Will Travel Inc.

"I've been on Nickelodeon, conducted convention work for Walt Disney World and done a lot of traveling. Farthest north I've been was to Vancouver."

During one trip, his van's transmission broke, so he took a six-foot gator into his motel room and put it in the bathtub. "The maid saw us carrying it in and when we returned to the motel a bit later, the manager wanted to talk to us. He turned out to be very nice and we had our picture (with gator) taken to be published in the motel chain's newsletter."

During one convention, Mrs. Moulton was the meeter and greeter while holding a two-foot-long alligator. One guest turned out to be Dan Quayle and that led to more photos.

"We used to do kids' birthday parties -- we'd terrorize the kids for 20 minutes, get the check and get out," chuckled Bwana Jim, who claims his mother provided the nickname after "having watched too many Tarzan movies. It stuck and it's likely to be on my tombstone."

The Moultons are bringing a six-foot gator, Bob, a baby gator, a two-foot-long gator, turtles, snakes and a "Florida speed bump" to Augusta.

What's that last thing?

"An armadillo," said irrepressible Bwana Jim.

Advance tickets costing $5 are on sale at Smile Gas Stations. Tickets will cost $7 when purchased at the gate at Julian Smith Casino. Children under 12 are free when accompanied by an adult. Festivities start at 10 a.m., and last until 5 p.m., with proceeds benefiting the Shelter and Advocacy Center for Abused Children.

A "Cookin' and Struttin"' preview party featuring country music, barbecue and live and silent auctions will be held from 7 p.m., until midnight at the casino on March 6.