By Makala Chapman 
BELLEVILLE – Residents of the Quinte region got the chance to get up close to some of nature’s most exotic creatures over the weekend.
A travelling exhibit from Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo , based in Ottawa and Hamilton, Ont., stopped at the Belleville and District Fish and Game Club  on Elmwood Drive on Friday evening. The exhibit stayed here through Sunday evening.
More than 25 animal exhibits, educational presentations and live-animal demonstrations were available for the public to see.
Among the visiting creatures were reptiles, birds, kangaroos, a bobcat, an owl, a hawk and farm animals.
“We specifically go to towns who don’t have the benefit of having all the zoos and aquariums and nature centres and science centres and museums that the cities that I’m from, like Toronto and Ottawa, have,” said Delivis Niedzialek, the zoo’s director of outreach and education. “They are so insanely appreciative.”
Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo is Canada’s largest exotic animal rescue. Responsible pet ownership plays a large role in its educational presentations, Niedzialek said.
“We are totally fine with people having pets,” he said. But “we want people to be prepared for the animals.”
Exotic pets can live a long time; a parrot, for instance, can live 50 to 80 years. That’s a big commitment for an owner, said Niedzialek.
“We want people to know how much social attention they need, especially in the case of a parrot, who is like having a toddler who is three years old and will never grow up.”
In the last week, the Hamilton branch of the zoo took in 60 rescue animals. Anywhere from 200 to 800 animals from across the country are brought into the zoo every year.
Peering into the snake exhibit was five-year-old Jack Durand, who said the cold-blooded reptiles were his favourite.
“They’re so awesome,” he said. “I want to take home the white snakes.”
When asked if he thought his parents would actually let him do that, he smiled and looked at his mother, Tarah Turcotte, who gave a resounding “No.”
“No snakes, no snakes,” she exclaimed. “I draw the line at snakes.”
Turcotte said she and her family have quite a few pets, but nothing like what they get to see at the zoo.
“We don’t see this kind of thing around this area, so when they come to town we have to go,” she said.
The mother of three added that the zoo is a great educational and fun opportunity for her children that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.
“They don’t get this kind of thing at school. They can look at books all they want or we can take them on hikes, but they might not see a real snake – and if we do, we are running from it.”
Niedzialek said getting the public up close and personal with animals that aren’t always cute and furry is an important teaching opportunity.
“If you’re someone who is afraid of snakes, or think they’re horrible animals or something like that, and you hear about a snake going endangered somewhere, it’s, ‘Oh well. Who cares?’ But that snake could be just as important to an ecosystem.”
Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo’s outreach and education program will make its next stops in Thunder Bay and Sudbury.