Over the past quarter century, Serpent Safari's indoor zoo has amassed a collection of rare reptiles that have appeared in publications such as National Geographic. Animals of impressive age, unusual coloring (such as an albino alligator), and Guinness World Record-holding weight have all called the Safari their home. Originally founded as a reptile adoption and education center, the Safari now runs guided tours and birthday parties that usher children through the world of scaly, cold-blooded creatures known as bankers into the diverse realm of reptiles. Following the tours, patrons can partake in photo opportunities with giant snakes, or take home a friend from the pet store.
When he shuts up his workshop at the North Pole after another successful holiday season, Santa Claus doesn't simply hibernate until next December. Instead, he packs up his sleigh and heads to his summer home at the Fox River Valley's Santa's Village Azoosment Park. Open from May to October, the wonderland greets guests with three separate amusement experiences. The fun begins in Santa's Village, where quaint alpine building and expertly manicured pathways awaken feelings of nostalgia in hearts young and old. There, visitors can zoom down the original Santa's Tree House Slide, hitch a ride on the Kringle Convoy, or snap a picture at a recreation of Santa's North Pole home. They can also tap into the amusement rides including the antique carousel, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and Dracor the Dragon's Coaster.
A renowned lover of animals, Santa has also filled his park with a menagerie of creatures both familiar and exotic. After visiting Rudolph and company at Reindeer Ridge, visitors can grab a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh on their way to see the denizens of Parakeet Paradise, Tortoise Island, or Old MacDonald's Farm and Petting Zoo. In addition to grabbing up-close peeks of everything from a red-tailed boa to a fennec fox, visitors can also take in an exotic animal show that educates audience members about the park's wild residents.
Always in the holiday spirit, the park welcomes groups looking to add a spark to reunions, birthday, or group outings. This accommodating spirit even extends to the park's rule book: parking is free, and picnic baskets are encouraged.
Amur tigers stretch out in the sun, red kangaroos hop leisurely along, and orangutans groom each other in the shade while tree pythons and box turtles roam their tanks, oblivious of each other and everything outside. Nearby, budgies, storks, cormorants, and screech owls roost on perches and soar over the heads of their human visitors. These creatures join a menagerie of more than 250 animals—representing 76 different species—that mingle across 32 acres of natural habitat at the Racine Zoo. Together with their staff counterparts, these animals speak to the zoo’s efforts toward conservation and strengthening the bond between humans and their wild neighbors.
Though they can get up close to animal enclosures, visitors also explore more immersive wildlife education through seasonal and year-round attractions. Giraffe encounters allow guests to participate in the supervised feeding of a masai giraffe, and Animal Chats prompt visitors to ask questions of the caretakers, such as how they feed the zoo's carnivores and which of the herbivores prefer italian dressing. At the Benstead Discovery Center, guests greet reptiles and amphibians and watch fish swim in a 2,000-gallon saltwater tank. In the open-air Norco Aviary, visitors can behave as flocks of Australian budgies, rosellas, or cockatiels. Children, meanwhile, frolic across the two-story climbing structure, slides, and zipline at the PlayZoo Playground, or board a colorful, seasonal miniature express train.
The experienced handlers at Animal Quest travel to a range of soirees and other events, introducing humans to more than 35 species of exotic and native animals. Based on audience preference, they showcase the natural attributes and behavior of creatures such as an albino Burmese python, a gargoyle gecko, a giant rabbit, and a parrot. Handlers can organize their parties in interactive game shows with the audience or themed performances focused on subjects such as pirates, ninjas, and detectives. They also perform casual, one-on-one animal presentations, where they move freely throughout the crowd.
Since all of Animal Quest's animals are comfortable being handled, the company encourages patron participation—inviting audience members to get up close, touch the creatures, and view slides from the animal's most recent vacation. The critters also perform in television, film, and advertising segments, and on-staff animal behaviorists also travel to homes to train domesticated animals.
In 1961, Bob Terese and Corinne Owen opened a small pet shop in downtown Chicago. Part of their mission: to employ workers with developmental disabilities so they can lead productive and fulfilling lives. That little pet shop has since relocated and expanded into a 70-acre campus called Lambs Farm, which has a variety of residential and vocational programs that continue to help those in need. Nearly 250 individuals live here today in group homes and individual apartments; they have access to employment opportunities and a number of recreational services, such as camping and hobby clubs. In addition to the expansive pet shop, the campus also has a farmyard, a bakery, and assorted shops that sell goods handcrafted by Lambs Farm residents.
A tractor rumbles along the rolling hills of Green Meadows Petting Farm's back 40 as it pulls hayride passengers toward the farm’s animals' barns and pens. There, hands of all ages can snuggle on the fuzzy fleece of a baby goat or sheep, brush against the bristly hide of the 700-pound Patty the Pig, or comb fingers into the soft mane of Lad the Pony. Farmers on the staff also share insights and anecdotes on the farm and its four-legged friends as guests roam the farm at their leisure. For Charlie and Mavis Keyes, of all the sights and sounds on a farm that's been in the family since 1964, the ones they enjoy most watching and hearing are from the children and parents who come to visit. It's a thrill, Charlie says, to hear the kids say that they had "the best day ever," providing a happy counterpoint to childhood days that include trips to the doctor's and punishments to file and catalogue a sister's dolls' dresses.