By Emily Harrington
As my son approaches 5, we are just starting to dip our toes into the weekend birthday party circuit. Even with our limited experience, however, I knew this concept was radically unique. Who knew in the middle of January a zoo could come right to your living room?
It started with printable (available on the company’s website) invites in the mailboxes at our children’s school. The party theme was clear: wild things. The company, Wild Times Exotics, was branded on the invite. No, it’s not what it sounds like. It’s animals, people. (Heads out of gutter.)
Specifically, it’s the only fully licensed and insured “zoo to you” program in Central Illinois. They specialize in entertaining at birthday parties, day cares, retirement homes, schools and graduation events. Using only harmless animals, they offer a hands-on format. There won’t be any lions or tigers coming to your home. However, there will be lots of furry/scaly creatures that delight (possibly freak) kids and parents alike.
This particular party started out like most boy parties. A lot of running, screaming, potty talk and fake weaponry wielding. Snack and cake. Because of the commotion, I didn’t even notice the zookeeper lugging in all the cages. She covertly stowed them away in another room, and they were out of sight from the revelers. After about an hour of party time, the zookeeper settled the boys (and one brave girl) into the living room. She effectively calmed the kids down. She wasn’t playing around, especially when it came to the safety of the animals.
The nice thing about the setup was, if someone lost interest or was scared around a particular animal, they could go play downstairs and not disrupt the zookeeper’s spiel.
She brought out each animal one by one. A huge python, a tiny “skinny” pig, a prickly hedgehog (named Sonic), an adorable chinchilla, a long-haired guinea pig and a lizard. The final two animals the crowd had to be quiet for: a diapered lemur and a skittish fox.
Each party goer was given the opportunity to hold, pet and, when appropriate, feed the animals.
The animal portion of the party was about an hour. There are a few packages to choose from. It’s important to note they do take requests for animals, but they don’t guarantee they will be available. For example, this host requested the little kangaroo (this is a package addition for $50), and it wasn’t able to make an appearance. So just keep that in mind when managing expectations, especially the birthday boy or girl. You can also add on the Albino Burmese Python. Oh, and T-shirts for $15 each.
The $200 base package includes seven animals: six “standard animals” and one “VIP animal.” Each package from there goes up a VIP animal and $25. However, you lose a standard animal. This highest-level package includes a longer show and/or a photo shoot, edited pictures, six standard animals and four VIP animals and a T-shirt for the birthday kid for $500. The company is based in Springfield, so the first 10 miles are included in the price. Outside of that is $1/mile each way. Also, if your party is huge you can ask for an extra handler for $50/hour. This would ensure each kid got touchy-feely time with the animals. The “VIP animals” can include critters like the fox, lemur, skunk, kinkajou and coatimundi. The “standard animals” can include animals like the hedgehog, chinchilla, skinny pig, guinea pig, tarantula and tortoise (to name a few).
Because of the delicate nature of the party, the company does (understandably) have quite a few rules.
It was an awesomely interactive and completely unique birthday party. Most of all, these birthday twins loved the party! Their excitement showed how much they adored animals. And the parents, too. Many of the parents were engaged while gushing over the fluff balls. The snake, not so much.
And no one pooped on the carpet. No one.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.