One of the highlights of my trip to Phoenix was visiting Arizona Down Under Exotic Petting Zoo, and finally meeting Sherry and Chris Pietilainen! Melanie was there, too, because of BlogPaws, and our new friend Jessica joined us. I knew that Chris and Sherry had an interesting collection of animals, but seeing so many unusual rodents in one place was a real thrill!
Back to front: Chris, Sherry, Jessica, Melanie’s Hat
I hadn’t seen a Paca since my trip to Panama, where they were so elusive. They are very sweet animals and very friendly, as you can see!
They are perfectly pet sized and seem to be pretty well behaved. Like many wild animals, though, pacas have proved to be challenging in captivity.
Cuniculus paca, Lowland Paca
It’s tempting to say “Oh, I definitely want one!” but I am willing to let experienced professionals like Chris and Sherry work with them first.
Oscar, showing off his zygomatic arches.
The males have a wider face due to a bony jaw extension, supposedly used to amplify vocalizations, which we did not hear. Oscar has kind of a pouched-up hamster look, doesn’t he? And what do they sound like? I will let you know if I find out.
This is Oscar’s second home, and he is settling in nicely.
There are more Oscar and Jelly Bean photos here.
Nibbles and Nugget, the agoutis
There are about a million agoutis in Panama, and there is a park in Rio de Janeiro with about a trillion of them! They are so adorable, and I was so excited when Chris got his! They get pouffy in a funny way when they’re excited: just the back half of them gets sticky-outy fur! It’s very silly looking, like fancy pants.
Agoutis are the perfect example why we let professionals check these guys out first. Chris had told me that they stink, so I quit thinking about pet agoutis long ago. Now he tells me why: when you give them a morsel of food, they scurry around, bury it, then urinate on it! What an adorable habit! It’s also disconcerting to see them easily bite into a Brazil nut. I usually have to open those with a jackhammer! So, agoutis are cute, but not for me.
Sheila and her little Joey. JoJo, the dad, is not shown.
The little marsupial Bettongs represent a special part of the “Down Under” portion of the petting zoo.
Baby Brush-tailed Bettong, so tiny!
The Pietilainens have three breeding pairs of Brush-Tailed Bettongs! (JoJo & Sheila, Sydney & Dundee, Wego & Izzy) They were resting quietly when we were there, and I didn’t dare disturb them, so these are Chris’s photos.
Not surprisingly, the tail has a brush at the end!
The Bettongs are critically endangered and the Pietilainens are part of a program that is trying to help the species survive even though they will never be able to recover their natural habitat. They have placed 9 pairs so far and know of at least 4 babies from those pairings.
Darby and Blue
Chris and Sherry started the rescue about a dozen years ago and the zoo evolved from the rescue. Today it’s more of a sanctuary than rescue. Like my sanctuary, many of the animals that come in now are not adoptable due to their age. They are nice relaxed animals for a petting zoo, though!
There is a growing need for rabbit and guinea pig sanctuaries. Chris has already taken in more guinea pigs since my visit!
What else has been in the living room?
Don’t we all have chicks in the living room? In most homes, these little guys would be getting all the attention, but we walked right past them, because Chris was already outside talking to this guy. There’s one in every crowd, and Chris let Alfie know we wouldn’t be putting up with any of his shenanigans.
“We have guests, so behave yourself!”
The Patagonian maras, on the other hand, were eager to meet us!
Jessica and the mara.
And then there was this guy, a ring-tailed lemur. His large cage was right outside the door.
He looked very dignified until Chris fed him. He sure gets into his food!
We picked a glorious week to visit Phoenix. It hadn’t been under 110º for days and had measured 120º just a few days before our visit. Quite a few of the animals kept to the shade by the house, but there were plenty of adventurous guys out and about.
The Patagonian maras are Amy, Rudi, Cody, Layla, Mia, Lanie & Lonie.
The maras were all over the place, and the chickens proved how spunky they are. This little white duck refused to live with the other call ducks, and was all over the place. I wanted to bring her home, but I was still trying to figure out how to sneak Cheerio into my pocket.
These guys had their own outdoor air conditioning- see that big red fan? There’s a reason why they’re all huddled around it! I wanted to join them!
The Fan Club
Wait, who is that way over there? Well, it’s Addy! It’s a capybara, of course, and amidst all these fabulous animals, you know the capybaras are what I came to see.
Addy the capy, getting some “space”
Chris! What are you doing over there with Becky the Emu? We need to see the capybaras!
Rebecca the Emu (Becky) getting some TLC.
So here’s Collett, posing, and looking very colorful in a coating of DRIED MUD. Nice.
How about these guys, tussling through the fence over who is to be Lord Of The Rake! Dobby does the same thing- guys just like tools, and all of my tools must be properly marked.
“It’s MINE, you fool!”
There’s nothing quite like a proper mudhole when the thermometer keeps going up!
Scrappy, Collett, and Chris
Chris has been breeding capybaras for a while. He’s working on a couple special breeds. Here’s one he calls “Hood Ornament” with a classy duck front and center.
Standard Duck Hood Ornament
Here’s another that is sure to become popular, the “Two-Toned” model. Available soon, at a pet shop near you!