Take your kid to a birthday party and you expect to see other kids—but what about a flamingo, a bearded dragon, a chinchilla, or a kinkajou? If you have a young animal lover in your family, you can bring more to the party table than safari-printed plates and plastic animals. These New Jersey companies bring over live animals—from ponies for riding to alligators for ogling—that will have your guests talking for weeks, if not years. Some of the animals can be handled and petted; others can be observed up close. Either way, kids will learn a lot and have a ton of fun along the way.
Read on to find out how to transform your home into the petting zoo of your child's dreams for his or her special day. Find more New Jersey kids' party ideas in our Birthday Guide.
Cape May County Zoo – Cape May Court House
Party at the zoo, at your house, or at another special location with some of the zoo's "ambassador animals." Special guests can include a hedgehog, chipmunk, skunk, turtle, wallaby, rabbit, chicken, snake, turtle, or armadillo. Party themes include Creatures of the Night, If I Ran The Rain Forest, Miles of Reptiles, Animals Around The World, and My Big Backyard. Kids can interact with both the living critters and a variety of "biofacts." Parties can be booked for locations up to an hour away from the zoo.
Green Meadows Farm – Great Meadows
This farm will bring its traveling petting zoo to you for a birthday party or other special event. The menagerie includes chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, lambs, goats, llamas, a calf, alpaca, turkey, and a pony. The group will go anywhere in Northern or Central New Jersey.
Happy Tales Pets – Jackson
Imagine the memories your child will have of going on a pony ride in their own backyard! This traveling petting zoo will bring ponies to your party, along with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, and rabbits. They'll bring fencing and everything else the animals need—you provide the audience. And no need to worry about the weather: they can use a garage or another covered area in the event of rain.
The Lizard Guys – Raritan
These funny animal folks will bring a selection of six to 10 snakes, turtles, frogs, bugs, and, of course, lizards to your home, keeping the kids engaged with their jokes and animal facts for each 45-60–minute party. Kids are introduced to the animals one at a time and will learn about their food, habitat, anatomy, and more. The Lizard Guys can cater their show to audiences as young as 1.5 and as old as 90, as well as to people with special needs.
Nature Nick’s Animal Adventures – Sound Beach, NY
Nature Nick will bring seven to 10 animals to your home for an unforgettable 45-minute party, including a kangaroo, owl, monkey, fox, alligator, lemur, and porcupine. Though he's based on Long Island, he's happy to come anywhere in New Jersey. Best for kids ages 5 and up.
Outragehiss... Pets – Chestnut Ridge, NY
For a truly outrageous animal experience that goes beyond ponies and bunnies, look no further than Outragehiss... Pets. Located right over the New Jersey border, this company offers entertaining and educational 30-, 45-, and 60-minute shows. Kids can pick eight animals from a selection of 50, including reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and birds—and, recently added, binturongs, a kinkajou, a sugar glider, a Burmese mountain tortoise, coatis, and a bearded dragon. Each child has a chance to see or touch each animal up close. Note that there's an additional fee for any location more than an hour from Chestnut Ridge.
The Peaceable Kingdom Petting Zoo – Perkasie, PA
Amaze your child and his or her friends with a visit from this mobile zoo as a birthday surprise. Based in Bucks County, Peaceable Kingdom will visit your home in Hunterdon or Mercer counties and set up a small petting zoo with goats, sheep, rabbits, and ducks right in your own yard. You can also choose a themed show featuring reptiles or other exotic animals (including a Patagonian cavy, two-toed sloths, an albino wallaby, a North American porcupine, kinkajous, sugar gliders, bush babies, and marmosets).
Petland Discounts Parties – Various locations
Does your child love to ogle the animals in the pet store window? Turns out the Petland Discounts chain has a separate party business that presents animal shows using all the creatures your child admires at the store. Rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, birds, lizards, ferrets, sugar gliders, and critters will make a grand entrance after your guests arrive. A typical one-hour event includes 12 to 14 animals, and kids are encouraged to volunteer to be a part of the show. The party service is a separate business; animals are not dispatched from the stores.
Rizzo’s Reptiles and Rizzo’s Wildlife World – Flanders
Warm up your party with some cold-blooded guests—or creep out your child's friends with some insect visitors. Choose between a reptile or insect party, a wildlife party, a rainforest party, or a "discovery green party." Rizzo's will make sure your child is the star of the show.
Snakes-N-Scales – Wanaque
Snakes-N-Scales offers a truly astounding array of animal party options, mostly focused on reptiles. Options include turtle racing, reptiles and a magic show, dinosaurs (using fossils), baby animals, and monsters (animals that people love to hate). All of the creatures are rescued from unfortunate situations and are cared for by the Snakes-N-Scales crew. Their specially trained instructors are experts with both animals and children, using jokes, stories, and an animal’s view of the world to bring life to any party.
Turtle Parties – Old Bridge
For kids with a really specific animal interest (that is, turtles), owner Steve Woyce will bring over seven to 10 turtles and tortoises for a show that lasts 45 to 60 minutes. Children will learn the differences between the animals as well as how they eat and hibernate. Though he doesn't allow the kids to touch the turtles for safety reasons, Woyce brings empty shells for partygoers to handle. These quiet and slow critters are sure to bring even the shyest party guests out of their shells.
Top Photo: Nature Nick can bring an owl to your home for an unforgettable 45-minute party. Photo courtesy of Nature Nick.
This post was originally published in February 2012 but has since been updated.