CHESTERTON | Angela Conrad, a second-grader at Chesterton Montessori School, expected the 13-foot-long Burmese python to be a little slimy.
But after helping to hold it, with a group of other children during Thursday afternoon's program at the Westchester Public Library, she learned that looks can be deceiving.
"It wasn't slimy. It was smooth and it was cool," said Conrad, bravely smiling.
The Burmese python was one of several cold-blooded creatures owned by Jim Nesci of Mokena, Ill., an educator who has owned reptiles since 1952 and has performed with the late Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter, on such shows as Oprah, Jay Leno, Regis & Kelly, and Good Morning America.
Nesci opened his transportation containers one by one, revealing large surprises inside as the crowd of some 100 children, participants in the Westchester Library Summer Reading Program, gasped in amazement.
"This is a close encounter. Fasten your seatbelts," said Nesci, who brought an African spurred tortoise named Tank, a North American alligator named Lucky, monitor lizard named Dragon, and the grand finale, Blondie, the Burmese python which every child had the chance to hold.
Nesci explained all of the animals live with him and they are "ambassadors of the reptile world."
"This was an unwanted pet that someone flushed down their toilet. Guess what? It happens more than you know and they do not make good pets because they have bad attitudes, are a lifetime commitment, and start small but grow to nearly 20 feet," said Nesci holding the alligator.
"This monitor can swallow a large dead rat in less than two seconds," he said, bringing the giant lizard around for the audience to see up close.
For Nesci, the experience is all about education.
"If we like animals, guess what? They have a chance on the planet," said Nesci.
Suzi Chomel, branch manager of the Hageman Public Library, concurred.
"This is an incredible opportunity to experience animals and learn about conservation through education," she said.