A day with kangaroos: Thorni Ridge gives people a wild experience at the fair

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, August 10, 2023

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Curtis Tufte, of Austin, was a busy little boy Thursday afternoon. Afterall, there were kangaroos to feed.

Curtis and his dad, Brett Tufte, were among the many people who were coming through and visiting the Thorni Ridge Exotics Mobile Petting Zoo on Thursday at the Mower County Fair.

New to the fair this year, Thorni Ridge offers an opportunity to interact, pet and feed several varieties of animals from all over the globe, including zebras, Patagonian maras, camels and much more.

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“A lot of times you can go to the zoo, but you can’t interact with them,” said Eric Smith, Thorni Ridge’s owner. “You can see them from a distance, but you don’t actually ever have an opportunity to give a zebra a bottle. Or a bison or water buffalo a bottle. To see animals that are this different, I’ve always enjoyed it and it’s always been a passion of me and my family.”

Based in Smithton, Missouri, Thorni Ridge commits to over 300 engagements in a year ranging from small birthday parties up to larger engagements like fairs and festivals.

They also take part in shows for libraries and volunteer work.

Smith said that he and his family have raised exotic animals for over 30 years, but he’s been taking Thorni Ridge on the road for the past five years since retiring from military service.

“Before that I just had my own zoo,” he said. “After I retired we started doing birthday parties, fairs and festivals.”

Above all else, Smith said he wants people to do more than visit the petting zoo and watch the animals. He wants people to have an experience all together different than what maybe they’ve ever had before.

“Interactions and education,” he said. “We have flyers on all of their pens that explain where they come from. You get to see a very large variety of animals.”

And some of those interactions are one of a kind.

“If you’ve never had a chance to ride a camel, we’ve got Ralphie out here. He’s seven years old and loves to give rides,” Smith said. “We have a kangaroo encounter, which is amazing.”

The petting zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day and is located on the east side of the midway.