Kim Atienza, who everyone fondly calls “Kuya Kim,” is a mainstay on national television, regaling viewers with trivia and informing them of the weather on TV Patrol on weeknights and further educating them on Matanglawin on Sunday mornings. “Three or four times a week, I’m able to bring an animal, an object of trivia, so the trivia segment of TV Patrol is fortified and made even more exciting,” Kuya Kim says.
It’s hard to catch Kuya Kim without an animal nearby. The TV host is known for his love for animals, particularly exotic ones. In fact, his first pet was a snake! “When I was a young boy, I bought a reticulated python from Cartimar for R50. It bit me and escaped,” he says with a laugh. “But I’ve always been interested in exotic animals, mainly because I grew up in a house full of aquariums because my dad was a tropical fish breeder; that was his hobby. I like seeing things inside aquariums, so that’s how my exotic taste started.”
That one snake grew to a menagerie of over a hundred animals. “I have 46 dogs and I have many, many reptiles, because I also breed tortoises,” says Kuya Kim, who just hatched a clutch of about 60 tortoises. “Maybe 15-20 snakes and about 12 lizards and about 15-20 turtles also. All in the house. I am very fortunate to have a property with a big garden.”
There’s more to Kuya Kim than his love for animals. “I’m also a family man. I have three kids, I have my wife; my priorities are like this: number one is God, second is family, third is work, and then fourth is my triathlon. I’m a triathlete; I swim, bike, and run,” he says. “I’m able to spend time with my family every day because we wake up at the same time—my whole household wakes up at 5:30 in the morning and we leave the house 6:30. My kids go to school, my wife goes to school—she owns a school, and I go to work out. I’m done by around lunchtime and I do my other jobs.”
He co-owns Celeb, an IT company that creates celebrity-oriented mobile phone games, with other celebrities like Anne Curtis, Belle Daza, and Erwan Heusaff, who are also his partners in another IT company. “I’m in the studio every day for TV Patrol. By 5 o’clock, I have to be in ABS taking care of my trivia and my weather segment. I’m done by 7:30, by 8 o’clock I’m at home; I have dinner with my family. Twice a day, breakfast and dinner, I’m able to have good quality time with my family.”
Everyone in the Atienza household loves animals. “My girls and my wife, they’re the dog persons. They love dogs. They know each and every one of our 46 dogs by name; I don’t,” Kuya Kim says. “I’m the reptile guy because reptiles need very little attention, and I bring them around for shows also because I’m able to inspect them. But basically, all my house boys are also gardeners and pet keepers.”
Kuya Kim says that there’s still a need for Filipinos to understand how to care for their pets, but that information is easy to come by. “A lot of people end up buying animals they don’t understand, so therefore the animals end up not taken [care] of and eventually, they die,” he says. “Dogs and cats and mammals are predictable; more or less we know and we’ve been so exposed to them all these years so we know how to take care of them, but an exotic animal, you really have to study…In the 90s, I used to order books from abroad so I can read but now I don’t even need books—it’s all on the internet.”
When asked for a suggestion for a first pet, Kuya Kim suggests a dog or a cat. “I like dogs because dogs are social animals and it’s easier for me to understand dogs than cats, but some people like cats. Anne Curtis likes cats, Colleen Garcia likes cats,” he says.
For folks who want to venture into exotic pets, Kuya Kim suggests starting with a ball python. “If you are to get into an exotic animal and you want a snake, the easiest to take care of is a ball python. First of all because of the size and the dietary needs and because it’s small, you can keep it in a small container,” he says.
He emphasizes the importance of researching on one’s potential pet, especially if one is looking to buy an exotic one. “A lot of people buy giant snakes like Burmese pythons. Burmese pythons are cute babies, but they will grow to about 20 feet and about 200 (pounds) and they end up being given away. So many people email me telling me they’d like to donate their snake to me—I get so many of those: ‘What will I do with 20-foot snakes?’ These are people who took care of Burmese pythons not knowing that they will become 20 feet long and there will come a point in time when they won’t be able to care for them anymore.”
Taking care of animals has brought Kuya Kim a lot of joy, and he believes that it helps people become more empathic. “My kids are exposed to animals and they will become beautiful, caring, kind people when they’re older,” he says. “Animals have a certain effect on children and taking care of animals have a certain effect on people…The more you expose children to animals, the kinder they will be, the more responsible they become… And…the more they learn about animals, especially non-cute animals like reptiles, the more they realize the role of reptiles and the role of human beings in the thing called the cycle of life. Eventually, everything is good for humans, so we have to take care of the ‘ugly’ ones also.”
Exotic animals tend to scare a lot of people, but according to Kuya Kim, this fear can be dispelled. “Kung gusto nila mawala ang takot nila sa reptiles, meron prosesong tinatawag na desensitization (If they want to lose their fear of reptiles, there is a process called desensitization),” he says. “Start handling it little by little, watch shows, watch TV. Like si Tita Mel Tiangco, takot sa ahas. E paano kung may ahas sa news? So ang ginagawa niya, nanonood siya ng ahas palagi sa NatGeo. Nawala yung takot niya. Nadesensitize siya. Ganun din. Pag meron kang snake phobia, tignan mo lang, hawak-hawakan mo lang. Harmless naman marami diyan (Like Tita Mel Tiangco, afraid of snakes, but what if there were a snake on the news? What she did was to watch snakes all the time on NatGeo. Her fear disappeared. She was desensitized. Same for [you]…if you have a snake phobia, just look at it, try to hold it. Many of them are harmless).”
Kuya Kim’s love for animals has led him to a fulfilling career that enables him to be around his pets and to help educate Filipinos about the natural world.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s October 2017 issue.