At Pete’s Safari, you can see a whole bunch of animals native to North Africa, Italy, the Arctic regions, South America, Australia and Madagascar. And you don’t even have to leave Hall County.
More than 30 species are on display at the family friendly zoo, which is at the intersection of South Engleman and West Stolley Park roads. Although its official address is Alda, Pete’s Safari is just outside of Grand Island.
A camel named Willie is perhaps the star attraction. But Pete’s Safari is also home to two kangaroos, a zebra, monkeys and three African-crested porcupines.
Pete’s Safari is perfect for “everyone — adults and children,” says Kim Petersen, who owns the zoo with her husband, Kevin “Pete” Petersen.
The best part of the job is seeing the faces “of all of our visitors,” Pete Petersen said.
“Everybody’s got big smiles,” he said.
Pete’s Safari was open for a month last October and then reopened in April. The Petersens plan to operate from April through October every year. The cost to visit is $8 per person.
A Loup City native, Petersen has been around animals his entire life.
“I grew up on an exotic animal ranch, raising several different kinds of exotic animals throughout my childhood and the early years after high school,” he said.
The business, Windy Hill Exotics, was owned by his parents, Jim and Pat Petersen.
“I grew up with lions and tigers and bears in the house,” he said.
On the edge of Grand Island, the Petersens own a total of 4.6 acres.
They got the chance to move in five years ago. At first, they were just going to rent.
“We moved in, and part of our agreement was no pets,” Petersen said.
But after six months of good work, the landlord allowed them to bring in a camel.
They bought the land two and a half years ago.
Willie, who has been around for four years, is a dromedary, meaning he has one hump.
“He loves kids,” Petersen says.
Some patrons have told Petersen they prefer Pete’s Safari to a large-scale zoo.
For 15 years, he was the service manager for Garrett Tires and Treads. Kim continues to work outside their home, but Pete now devotes all his time to the zoo.
The Petersens did a ton of work themselves - building the enclosures.
“We continue to grow,” he said. “It’ll take a little time. But we’ve got some cool stuff we’d like to acquire.”
Support from the community will allow Pete’s Safari to grow, he said.
The Petersens have six kids and six grandchildren, who help on the weekends.
In addition to everything else, Petersen does chain saw carving on the side. Proceeds from his sales help support the zoo.
Petersen, 48, enjoys interacting with the animals.
“My wife tells me it takes me twice as long to do chores as it should,” he said.
He clearly knows his animals. Black Cap Capuchins are the most intelligent of the smaller breed monkeys, he says. When you see a monkey in a TV show, it’s usually a Black Cap Capuchin.
Some of the creatures may be fed by hand. It’s fun, for instance, to watch tortoises eat lettuce.
“Kids just love feeding the tortoises,” Petersen said.
Most of the time, visitors feed the animals with a long pole, or by sending morsels down a tube.
Ponies are the only animals there that kids can ride. Pony rides are $5.
Also on hand is a male zebra. Petersen hopes to get “him a girlfriend one of these days.”
Kids are fond of the rabbits and the goats.
Helpful signs tell visitors about the animals.
Customers will get to meet Clyde and Bonnie, who are Coatimundis, or South American raccoons. Described as a “super-fun couple,” they are the parents of a youngster named Ringo.
At Pete’s Safari, you’ll gain some interesting knowledge. The Petersens own three examples of the Patagonian cavy, described as the world’s second-largest rodent.
You’ll also meet a male albino wallaby named Shylo, Arctic foxes, two ring-tailed lemurs and a Patas monkey called Mikey.
“I like to play ball, pick pockets and steal sunglasses,” reads Mikey’s sign. The Patas monkey is the fastest land monkey, traveling at up to 35 mph.
You’ll also learn that an African-spurred tortoise can live up to 70 years. Tank, the one at Pete’s Safari, has a long way to go. He’s only a teenager.
Also on hand are a pair of Aoudad, also known as Barbary sheep, and a black-handed spider monkey named Kash.
A pair of groundhogs will remind you of a Bill Murray movie.
The animal population also includes two baby emus, two ostriches, a mini-donkey, chickens, turkeys, a Cape Barren goose, a trumpeter swan, peacocks and yellow golden and red golden pheasants.