When Ron Magill was a kid, he’d explore his five-acre farm five miles west of the county zoo to find his friends — frogs, salamanders and other wildlife.
Or he’d watch “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” living vicariously through host Jim Fowler.
When he landed a job at Zoo Miami just out of zoology school at the University of Florida in 1980, he thought he’d won the lottery. He never imagined it could be even better.
But it just did. Magill, 58, the communications director at Zoo Miami, is now hosting his own wildlife show — in Español.
The show — produced by the Spanish-language cable network HITN — is fittingly named Mundo Salvaje con Ron Magill (“Wild Kingdom with Ron Magill”). It will air at 9 p.m. on HITN on Monday nights, beginning Oct. 1. Ten episodes have been produced, with possibly more coming.
“One of my favorite sayings is we protect what we love, we love what we understand and we understand what we are taught,” said Magill, a graduate of Palmetto High School. “So my hope for this show is to teach people how beautiful and wonderful nature is. I don’t want them to be afraid of it. I just want them to respect it.”
For years, he appeared on the Spanish-language variety program Sabado Gigante, and he often appears on local TV to comment on different animal topics. Magill, whose father moved to New York from Cuba, learned Spanish at an early age.
Guillermo Sierra, head of television and digital services for the network, said “being very well known in the Hispanic community” made Magill the right choice to narrate the network’s first self-produced nature show.
“He’s so passionate about what he does and that comes across to the audience,” Sierra said.
Over the years, Magill — who fell into the communications position by accident after talking passionately about newborn crocodiles at the zoo around 1990 — said he has been approached to host wildlife shows before. But he’s turned them down because he felt the programs would cast animals in a bad light.
“Often the shows are more to scare you than to inspire you about wildlife,” he said. “Too many programs have names like ‘When Animals Attack’ and ‘World’s Deadliest.’ It sends the wrong message.”
This time, he set some ground rules. He wouldn’t hold any animals, because he doesn’t want to send the message that wild animals can make good pets. He wanted real footage of animals in their natural habitat. He wanted to tell the stories and let the animals be the star.
HITN, a public broadcasting network that reaches 44 million homes and specializes in educational programing, agreed. Sierra said the network had already seen an interest in programs about nature and partnered with Off the Fence production company in the Netherlands to get footage of animals in their natural habitat. While he wouldn’t disclose the show’s budget, he said it was a “significant investment.”
Magill, who is the public face of Zoo Miami, said he was involved in every part of the production. In the promotional video for the show, Magill can be seen in the Everglades and at the zoo. Close-up images of alligators, apes and bears flash on the screen.
“If you think you have a hard life, imagine the life of animals,” he says on the video. “The struggle to survive is fierce. They have to face predators who want to kill them and also their young. They have to do incredible things to protect them.”
Magill has also done some educational clips in English for the network featuring different animals such as the elephant.
He said being able to go into Hispanic households and serve as a “window into the wild” is a “privilege.”
“There are so many parallels between humans and animals,” he said. “It means so much to me to present a show that can be viewed by the whole family.”
Mundo Salvaje will air at 9 p.m. Mondays on HITN beginning Oct. 1. To check your local viewing station visit http://hitn.tv/mundo-salvaje.
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Catalina Ruiz Parra contributed to this report.