Monkeys and Giraffes and Lemurs – Oh My! 7

Close Encounters with Cool Creatures at Zootastic Park

Right outside Charlotte, N.C., lies a small town of approximately 2,700 people, some monkeys, a few lemurs and a couple giraffes. This town is called Troutman, and these delightful creatures can be found at Zootastic Park, a family-owned zoo boasting safaris and one-on-one encounters with exotic animals. Those aren’t the only animals one can find at the park, either. Ever wanted to hang out with a kinkajou? Zootastic can make that happen. (Do you even know what a kinkajou is? Hint: They’re super cute.) These unique animal encounters are fun for everyone, from kid to adult, which is just what Scottie Brown, the owner, had envisioned from the start. A conversation with Rae Kalenka, Zootastic’s senior zoo crew member, camp coordinator and Scottie’s right-hand woman, revealed just how much this park means to many people. And just down the road, there’s an experience waiting for you, too!

What made Scottie want to start a zoo?

He’s been working with animals for more than 40 years, and his dream had always been to have a zoo, so he and his son started it from the ground up. He built the park and had experience transporting animals, and from that, it just all came together.

What is your favorite thing about the job?

My favorite part is watching the adults’ reactions—kids reactions are expected, but adults don’t always realize how much fun they’re going to have. We’ve witnessed multiple life events, too, from marriage proposals to anniversary celebrations! It’s cute to watch a kid experience petting a tiger, but there’s something extra magical when you see someone’s 90-year-old grandma holding a monkey for her birthday when it’s something she’s always wanted to do. It’s such a beautiful interaction and makes me hopeful for bridging the distance between animals and humans.

What’s one animal you have yet to meet but really want to meet?

As a zoo, we would really like to have an okapi, but they’re super rare, so that’s really just a dream. Personally, I’d love to bring in some penguins! And we are actively trying to add on elephants. It takes considerable funds to keep an elephant, though, so we’re trying to build up for that.

What do you recommend for families visiting? Couples?

For small families and couples, I’d recommend the 15-minute encounter packages. For larger groups, and especially those celebrating a life event, I highly recommend the 60-minute safari encounters! It’s such a fun way to get hands-on with creatures you don’t typically get to see. We see quite a few people who swing by while they’re in town for business and just want something fun to do! The 15-minute encounters are perfect to get away from meetings and de-stress a little with some cute baby animals. Visitors can find a list of the animals we have available for the encounters on our website.

Any fun events coming up in the spring or summer?

We purchased the 16 acres with a new wagon trail in mind, and that’s just about ready and open to our visitors! We also have a summer camp that runs for 11 weeks throughout the summer for interested kids and parents. Last year, we hosted “Breakfast with the Beasts” on a few different Sunday mornings. We had a lot of fun with this—we allow a select number of people in the park to enjoy breakfast next to the lions, and they even get a show, too!

We’re also ironing out the details for our Christmas in July series. It’ll go through the month of July, and one can expect a Santa Claus in his best Hawaiian garb, Christmas lights and outdoor movies on the big screen. We haven’t done this in the past, but we’re super excited to get it started this year!

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There’s no denying that there’s something for everyone at Zootastic. Asheville local Mariah Gunther surprised her mom for her 70th birthday with a family trip to Zootastic earlier this year. They all spent the day hanging out with the different animals and making lasting memories together. When asked about her experience, Mariah said:

It’s a great place! They have a zookeeper for a day program I want to get for my parents next. It’s an awesome opportunity, and it’s educational. For us, it was a bonding experience with animals and family. We got to play with these animals we’d never get to see otherwise. It’s just such a fun place!