Alligator handler to headline venue of events at Curry County Fair

Harold Ives of Wright’s Amusement of Elbert, Colo., sets up the ferris wheel Saturday at the Curry County Fair Grounds. The 2003 Curry County Fair starts Monday. Photo by Rick White.

By Gary Mitchell

Jeff Quattrocchi’s job often lands him up to his neck in alligators — especially when he’s bulldogging them.
Quattrocchi, also known as “the Swampmaster,” will bring his gator show to the 2003 Curry County Fair for three performances a day Monday through Saturday.
When Quattrocchi spoke with Curry County Fair bookkeeper Peggy Burns about his show, he asked about the wildlife in New Mexico.
“He wanted to know if he had to bring his own alligators,” Burns said. “I told him we didn’t have any alligators in Clovis and that he’d have to bring his own — or I could get him some Gila monsters.”
The Swampmaster’s response was without hesitation.
“I leave those alone,” he quipped. “I’ll leave those for Steve Irwin (‘The Crocodile Hunter’). My show is booked as an alligator wrestling show, but I never call it wrestling. For one thing, alligators don’t know how to wrestle. It’s an educational show, a family show. There’s no winner or loser. It’s not man-against-beast, but I do handle an 8-foot alligator.”
But that’s not to say there’s no action in the show.
“I lecture and talk, then I’ll get in the water with the alligator and pull him out by his tail,” the 38-year-old alligator handler said. “Later in the show, I’ll grab him by the neck and bulldog him. The alligator I’m bringing is one I’ve never handled. I’ve never bulldogged him. It’ll be like breaking a new bronc. He’s a big 8-foot, dominant male, and I’m sure he’s gonna be all I can handle.”
None of his gators are from the wild, Quattrocchi said.
“I go to alligator farms and buy them,” he said. “They’re not tame at all. In fact, they’re more aggressive because they’re used to competing for food.”
Although the Swampmaster knows his alligators, he admits to a few close calls during his 12-year career.
“I’ve been bit 12 times in 12 years,” he said. “I don’t count nips. Four of my bites have been ones that the gator held on for over two minutes. It was quite terrifying. When they clamp down, their bite has the equivalent of 2,000 pounds per square inch. They eat turtles, and they crack the turtle shell like we eat popcorn. Every show I do is a potential career-ender.”
In fact, he’s missing a couple of fingertips from those close encounters.
Still, Quattrocchi said he has so much affection for the reptiles that he keeps about 100 retired gators at a pond in Tampa, Fla., where he lives. Gators are only good for about three or four weeks before they learn the routine and lose their feistiness.
“They don’t become tame,” he said. “But a day comes when he’ll close his eyes when we’re in the pond together and he’ll pretend I’m not there.”
The Swampmaster headlines quite a venue of sports events and entertainment shows at this year’s fair, Burns said.
“We’ll have Rusty the Robot from Euless, Texas,” she said. “He talks to people — he’s really cute.”
Singers Michael Salgado, Scott Whitaker and Becca Dalrymple will highlight Thursday’s and Saturday’s festivities, Burns said.
“Michael Salgado is a top star in the Tejano music circles,” she said. “He’ll be in concert Thursday night. Scott Whitaker and Becca Dalrymple have never been here before, but they’re wonderful down-home country singers.”