Kids adore getting up close to animals. Enter: Sustainable Safari. As a wildlife biologist by training, I am always keen to find those which are ethical in animal treatment, sourcing, and care. Most folks know about Minnesota’s many zoos, but who knew there was a super hands-on petting zoo in a suburban mall? Here’s how to make the most of your visit!
Sustainable Safari in Maplewood Mall
Maplewood is about a 30 minute drive from the Bloomington/Mall of America and Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport area. It’s an easy drive to the Maplewood Mall. For easiest access, park in the upper lot near Kohl’s and use Door 2 for entry.
Once inside, Sustainable Safari is on the second level in a corner storefront. My best advice is to get there when it opens, or wait about two and a half hours after the opening time to visit. (There was a line of about a dozen people in front of us, at noon on Sunday.) You might also have good luck during the work week. The more congested, the longer wait you’ll have for animal encounters–unless you use my other piece of advice, below.
General Admission – Baseline Entry at Sustainable Safari
General admission (just to get in the doors and be able to feed the animals with the $3.00 included cup of mixed seeds, pellets, and greens.) If you want to hold or feed beyond this, you’ll have to pay for the animal encounters and feedings separately.
The site is open everyday, but check their website for hours. There are some holidays in which the petting zoo is closed.
Animal Encounters are not included in this gate fee. You will be able to lean over the fence to pet kangaroos, goats, and other animals with accessible enclosures. Feeding in this way is available to you within the general admission. I recommend this entry for grandparents or chaperones having NO interest in animals themselves, perhaps just wanting a fun day out with your loved ones and being the jolly photographer on the outside of the pen. General admission is fine if your parties’ ages are over the minimums so you won’t have to accompany them inside cages.
Fee-Based Animal Holdings and Feedings
There are different feeding and holding fees charged based on the experience you want. Some visitors are angered by this price scale on top of admissions, BUT, this is a way to not exhaust the animals and to pay for their special care.
Each fee allows 4 minutes of holding an animal. Thing about this based on lines – if there are ten people in line, you’re talking a 40 minute wait. So plan your allotted time for the visit accordingly. During out visit, a line of ten people was not at all uncommon.
Allow Time to Interact with Animals
Factoring in a couple kids or family members wanting to hold an alligator, feed a capybara, and hold a kangaroo COULD mean around three hours at the zoo. That’s also not including meandering around to “fish for prairie dogs” or enter the avian enclosure to enjoy the budgies. For me, it’s an easy two hours on-site but could stretch longer for larger families and more interest in encounters.
Sustainable Safari Tips for a Great Visit
Let’s get this out upfront — this is NOT like visiting Como Zoo. You’re going to spend some money for this special experience. $14.50 at the doors, per person is the MINIMUM you can figure out for your budget. The feed cup included not going to get you a ton of interaction. I equate this to Zoo Tampa or Safari North or any other zoological visit — you’ve gotten in, now you’re likely going to pay that $5.00 to feed a leaf of romaine to a giraffe.
Manage Your Time and Get the Most for Your Money
Please go into this experience with a different mindset than an average zoo visit. You WILL be paying more for the unique and safe access to these incredible animals. The atmosphere is safe for visitors and animals alike. If the hundreds of guests through the doors ALL had free reign with the babies in the enclosures, they wouldn’t have any respite from stimulation. So try framing the experience as what it truly is — incredible, rare access to some of nature’s most interesting animals!
Guided Sustainable Safari Tour
If you have one kid you plan to treat for their birthday or something special, I highly recommend the Guided Safari Tour option. Yes, it’s $180 + $14.50 admission. BUT, the food needed for interaction is included for the animals you’re working with. You get SO MUCH information and the care and patience of a dedicated animal care specialist. Find out all the clever names of the residents and extra information that you won’t get with the general holding queue. If you have the funds to manage this, it’s bar none the best option for a high quality experience at Sustainable Safari.
Special “pouch packages” are offered for a middle-of-the-road experience that is both affordable and enjoyable. Some are dedicated to reptiles like bearded dragons and snakes, while others cater to the kangaroo crowd. These experiences are less-expensive than the full guided tour but offer a lot more intimate encounters than general admissions and paying for a holding.
Holdings and Feedings at Sustainable Safari
This is still a wonderful way to get kids and adults alike nearer to animals to learn about them, and hopefully, foster life-long learning interest and respect for the creatures who inhabit this earth with us! You’ll get 4 minutes (they have timers, so rest-assured, you get every second to soak up the snuggles of a baby animal or alligator or whatever delights you!)
You can also opt for an up-close feeding of a Lemur or Binturong (bearcat) which is incredible, too. Learn about lemur matriarchy communities while you hand them food favorites or marvel at how gentle the intimidating bearcat can be when it nibbles a grape out of your fingertips. These animals are very sensitive to germs and stay in their cage during the experience, but it’s still one-of-a-kind and memorable.
Final Thoughts and Advice for a Satisfying Sustainable Safari Visit
The optimal visit would be during a low attendance time to cut back on wait times. The Family Feed Cup offers up a seed stick for the aviary for the members of your party and some apples and sweet potatoes, and a lot of lettuce and seed/pellet mix. The fruits and veggies are key for most residents taste buds.
Try to game out your time – the aviary is a short wait. Emus, prairie dogs, guinea pigs, and goats are available almost endlessly to interact with through the fence. Wear minimal clothing (jewelry, draping tops and sweaters, anything loose) as some animals will nibble and tug at anything they find to chew on.
Be patient. These animals are constantly handled and human-raised in most cases. You are in THEIR home and you must exercise full respect and be gentle! This is a very special experience and you really do get what you pay for in terms of unique interaction and time with the animals.
I heard one request for a refund during our visit. I couldn’t help but think the party likely did not do their research. They probably thought they’d pay $14.50 and have the keys to the animal kingdom. Realize this is not a typical zoo. Alter your attitude to remember you’re not staring at these animals through glass panes and the upkeep of their clean cages and quality food takes operational budget. For the best experience, save up for this epic petting zoo experience and find the interaction level that suits your interests and financial abilities.