Do you want to hug a kangaroo, cuddle a fox, pet a porcupine or feed a grape to a ringtail lemur?
Those are just some of the many experiences guests will find at the Maplewood Mall. Sustainable Safari, formerly known as Cock-A-Doodle-Zoo, moved into the Maplewood Mall last year on Black Friday but had to shut down March 15 when the mall closed its doors because of the pandemic. The zoo is located on the second floor at the southwest end of the mall, near where Sears used to be.
Former White Bear Lake residents Bob and Mishelle Pilz, who now live in Scandia, have been in the business for around 20 years. How did he get into the world of exotic animals? “I bought a camel,” said Bob. “I found out you could get access to crazy animals legally, and it took off.”
Bob was in the real estate business until the housing market crashed in 2008, which caused him to reevaluate and dream up another career. “We started doing petting zoos. We had tons of crazy animals. It was like my little Michael Jackson Neverland Ranch. We started bring the animals out and no one else was doing that, so it just took off.”
Throughout the years Cock-A-Doodle Zoo has become well known around the state for its wildlife shows at day care facilities and schools and petting zoos at various city festivals (including Marketfest), county fairs and the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.
The couple’s dream has always been to have a location, which needed to be indoors because of Minnesota’s harsh winters. “I was walking through the Mall of America (MOA) for my daughter’s 11th birthday (she’s 21 now), and it just hit me like a baseball bat. This is where we have to go, indoors,” Bob recalled.
After several years of negotiating back and forth with MOA and some very big numbers, they decided to try out the concept at Maplewood Mall. On June 15, when the business reopened after being closed down three months, it opened with a new name: Sustainable Safaris. The business’s mission is to educate the public on planetary sustainability through the use of live animals in a safe and up-close way.
President/CEO David Harvey, who has been involved in the business since 2017, said you can’t share the sustainable message until people become more familiar with the animals.
“In the city, most of these folks have never seen a kangaroo. They couldn’t pick out a goat from a donkey,” he said. Harvey said he has walked around the mall several times with a kangaroo and has been asked if he is carrying a reindeer, donkey, rabbit or camel.
“It’s all about education. There are some pretty cool animals that are out there, and until you can have an up-close-and-personal interaction with an animal, it is hard for somebody to be excited or want to hear a message about sustainability,” he explained. “We need to make sure that these animals are going to be here for their own grandkids and their grandkids.”
Bob added, “I’m a Christian, I’m a believer in Christ and I love the beginning story. It thrills me to be the steward of these animals and help create a place that is safe to learn about them and get up close to them.”
Sustainable Safari currently has around 140 animals, not including the 206 parakeets. Some of the most popular animals include the kangaroo, Fennec fox and alligators, but there are also wallabies, raccoons, goats, alligators, lemurs, porcupines, emus, badgers, deer, llamas, bunnies, capybaras and more.
For the price of a general admission ticket, you can touch, pet, feed and interact with almost 90% of the animals. There are typically three wildlife shows a day. Safari tours and tokens can also be purchased for more up-close experiences, like sitting on a couch with a baby wallaby.
“I want them to have a good experience with an animal that they have never met, learn something new about an animal they have never met,” Harvey explained.
In addition to its new home at the Maplewood Mall, the business still offers a traveling experience wildlife show at senior centers, schools, day care and YMCA facilities etc.
Many of the cleaning protocols and business operations have not changed during the pandemic because they were already in place. In addition to the $40,000 ventilation system that cycles the air every six minutes, handwashing stations and hand sanitizer were already in use. The business has always had strict cleaning protocols in place, too.
For more information about Sustainable Safari, visit sustainablesafari.net.
Lead Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.