One recent University of Minnesota graduate has created his very own land down under in Minnesota’s farmland, replete with kangaroos, an emu and an exotic
Christian Lilienthal graduated from the University’s College of Food and Agricultural Sciences with an agricultural education degree last year. He now runs an animal oasis at his family farm in Arlington, Minn., 60 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.
Lilienthal’s mob of kangaroos came from a larger exotic animal ranch in South Dakota, which downsized and sent the kangaroos his way in January. Neither the Como Zoo in St. Paul nor the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley house kangaroos.
Most of the kangaroos live in a pen outside. Lurch, a 12-year-old emu, lives next door.
Stroll further down this animal avenue and you’ll meet Dalai Llama — a father’s day gift to Lilienthal’s father.
There are also the peacocks — some albino — who neighbor the red-golden pheasants.
Lilienthal said the animals adapt pretty easily to Minnesota winter.
The kangaroos that live outside rely on heating pads and a heating lamp to stay warm. Some of them, however, get prime indoor real estate.
Rocky the wallaby lives in his own pen in Lilienthal’s father’s fur workshop. Previously, Rocky lived with Lilienthal in his St. Paul apartment during his last few months at
Lilienthal said he would even walk around Northrop Mall with Rocky during that time.
“He’ll grab your arm and he won’t ever let off of you because he just wants to lick your finger,” Lilienthal said.
Currently, Baby Bindi gets the most attention. The 8-month-old kangaroo lives in the Lilienthals’ home, where she sleeps upside down in a bag-like pouch. Lilienthal said he can just “hang her on the doorknob” and leave her for hours.
“All she is is feet and tail and ears,” Lilienthal said.
Lilienthal speaks with expertise and authority in describing the biology and behavior of his pets.
He said he learns most from researching ahead of time for the animals he wants to acquire. Nevertheless, Lilienthal said, “you kind of have to end up being your own expert” with unorthodox pets like his.
In addition to caring for the kangaroos, more than 20 peacocks, two dogs, a llama and an emu, Lilienthal helps his family manage Lilienthal Farm, which profits mainly from cattle and crops.
Lilienthal’s mother, Nelva Lilienthal, said her son’s passion for animals came early.
“When he was probably 12 or 13, I think he got a peacock or a fancy pheasant of some kind from his aunt and uncle for his birthday,” she said.
From there, Lilienthal got involved with the 4-H agricultural organization and with buying and showing more birds. Now the 4-H club comes to Lilienthal Farm for tours, Nelva said.
“He really enjoyed it, and we had the space and stuff for it,” Nelva said. “It’s a learning experience for him.”
Living on the family farm has played a role in Lilienthal’s animal expertise as well.
“We always had peacocks running around outside when I was little,” he said, though the most exotic animals have been acquired more recently.
Lilienthal acquired his interest and knowledge in kangaroos from an experience at a zoo in Australia during a study abroad program.
“There’s a lot of things you just can’t ask questions about,” he said. “You just have to experience it.”
Owning “wild, exotic, dangerous or non-domestic animal[s]” is against the law in Minneapolis, according to city ordinances, but because he was not profiting from them, Lilienthal did not need a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit to own the animals in Arlington.
Now, however, he does need USDA approval, as he is looking to “make a business out of keeping [the animals]” through speeches to educational and interest groups.
“Before I can start being hired to do programs or to speak or anything like that, I have to have this permit,” Lilienthal said.
The USDA classifies exotic pet owners as exhibitors, brokers or breeders, Lilienthal explained. Lilienthal expects his exhibitor’s license to arrive in the next couple of weeks.
With this educational programming, Lilienthal hopes to merge his love for animals with his agricultural education degree.
“I’m pretty good at achieving my goals,” he said. “It’s not easy to come across kangaroos, but I figured that out.”
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