Ron Magill has been getting away with it for over three decades. “I’ve had this scam going for 32 years,” he says. “When you get paid to do what people pay to do, you’ve got it made. I’ve been the luckiest man in the world.”
Magill, (shown here with Phantom, the eagle owl) is not exactly talking about being the Zoo Miami spokesman, but what his job has grown into: promoting interaction with animals; advocating for South Florida’s ecosystem (lately including all-out war against a plan to build a giant boat storage facility in pristine Matheson Hammock Park), passing on his passion for all things wild to new generations. And, as was his boyhood dream, simply getting to work with animals.
“When I was a kid, there was one animal show: Wild Kingdom. It came on at 7 p.m. on Sundays and I lived for that show,” the New York-born Cuban American, 52, says. “I would sit in front of the TV, just in awe. [Host] Jim Fowler was my big inspiration. I’d say, that’s what I want to do.”
Has he ever. Magill’s a regular on Sabado Gigante and has been on The David Letterman Show. He’s appeared in and consulted on movies, documentaries and TV specials. He’s on two Miami radio shows.
And he’s spread that enthusiasm to kids, encouraging them to think green as well as engage nature despite media’s tendency to overplay dangers like shark attacks. “I tell them never to be afraid of anything and to respect everything,” says Magill, who is married and has two kids. “If you do that, you will not put yourself in a dangerous situation.”
He’s even taken groups of kids on trips to Africa and Latin America, though one of his own favorite spots is in the Everglades. “The Anhinga Trail before sunrise. Go out to the point and just stand and wait for the sun to rise. If you have a cloudless sky, it will give you goosebumps: the sounds, the smells; no roads, no telephone poles. It’s a place that could have been that way 5,000 years ago.”
Whether it’s the Everglades, Molasses Reef or any other South Florida natural wonder, Magill always tells tell kids: “Go out there an see it, so you can live it and understand it. And then you will want to protect it for the rest of your life.”