The Lake Norman region offers so much to do and see, and many of the most interesting locations are local attractions owned and operated by Lake Norman residents.

Zootastic is a locally owned and operated attraction.

ZootasticThe first thing you notice upon arriving at Zootastic Park isn’t the animals, it’s the children. Happy children are everywhere you look. The sounds of laughter, giggles and gasps of excitement fill the air. This is a place where learning is fun, exciting and interactive. No place is this more evident than the giraffe exhibit, the first stop on our tour. The elevated platform was filled with captivated children petting and feeding the two friendly giraffes. The young giraffes, a one-year-old named Jigsaw, and a two and a half year old named Melman, were just as interested in the kids and enjoyed all the attention.

Our tour guide for the day, Scottie Brown, the park’s owner and founder, told the kids that the giraffes give kisses. He put a cracker between his teeth, and much to the delight of the kids, the older giraffe took it in his soft lips exposing its dark purple tongue. This was such a hit that a girl of about 10 or 11 volunteered for a giraffe kiss of her own.

With an annual attendance of around 100,000, Zootastic Park is one of Lake Norman’s most popular attractions. Spread across 60 acres of rural countryside just north east of Lake Norman, over 300 animals call the park home. In addition to viewing the animal enclosures, admission includes a covered wagon ride through 44 acres populated with over 150 animals. On the ride you will encounter buffalo, bison, watusi, llamas, alpacas, waterbuck, blackbuck, oryx, zebras, emus, wildebeest and more. Just your average Lake Norman safari! Zootastic Park is Scottie Brown’s ambitious vision and his pride in the facility and love of the animals is evident as he guides us around. With over 30 years experience working with exotic animals, his lifelong dream became a reality when the park opened in 2010. And that vision is still growing. There are many exhibits and improvements under construction or planned for the near future. From the giraffe exhibit, Scottie leads us down a gravel path that bisects the entire compound. Animals line both sides of the path. We saw Zebra’s, kangaroos, wildebeests, and more. At the end of the path is the petting zoo and the boarding platform for the wagon ride. At the petting zoo more delighted kids are introduced to a variety of friendly animals, including several species of goats, pigs, llama’s and sheep. Our favorites were the curious little pigs running through the legs of the larger animals and the Jacob sheep whose domestication dates back to biblical times, and is the only 4-horned mammal in existence.

Next to the petting zoo Scottie pointed out the new Lemur Island exhibit that’s under construction. To keep its future residents ringtailed and black and white ruffed lemurs in check, the island is surrounded by a 10-foot wide moat. Scottie assured us that Lemurs don’t swim. Another exhibit opening soon will allow guests to walk with a variety of parakeets and parrots. One of the park’s most popular residents is a young white Siberian tiger named Elsa. When we arrive at her home the Tiger is nowhere to be found. A few calls from Mr. Brown, and the “baby” tiger, who is already bigger than any dog, ambles from its artificial cave to greet him. Mr. Brown’s affection for animals in his care is evident throughout our tour. Like many of the animals in the park Elsa is very attached to him. The moment Scottie steps into the enclosure she wants attention and is ready to play. As we walked, Scottie Brown demonstrated his special relationship with each of the animals. Every animal we met on the tour came when he called, and looked for his attention. Perhaps the special connection Mr. Brown has with animals was best demonstrated with the park’s two hyenas. When we walked up to their enclosure the nocturnal animals were tucked away in their lair. Although more closely related to cats than dogs, spotted hyenas have a reputation as one of the most vicious mammals on earth, but when Scottie called they came to him begging for attention like a couple of puppies. Zootastic Park’s residents include many young or baby animals that Scottie and his family are personally raising. In addition to the young giraffe and Siberian tiger, we were introduced to an adorable baby kangaroo, a liliger cub (a cross between a male lion and a ligress) and an adorable baby hyena. There were twin baby lemurs as well, but they were to shy to show their faces. Our tour culminated with a lemur encounter. We stepped into the room and four lemurs, two ringtailed and two white and black ruffed, bound in, literally bouncing off the walls. Curious about my camera, two of them bounce onto my head and shoulders. Light as a cat, but with baby soft hands and fur, these endangered animals are truly remarkable creatures, and we highly recommend seeing them up close like this.

Leaping Lemurs!

With leaping and climbing abilities that Spider Man would envy, these white and black ruffed lemurs are two of the stars of the Animal Encounter that we highly recommend. If you think a barrel of monkeys is fun, spend a few minutes with these guys!