ENID, Oklahoma — The owners of an exotic animal park in a North-Central Oklahoma city say their goal is to help community members, even if it's just to make them smile.
For the past few years, Enid has been home to ring-tailed and ruffed lemurs, coatimundis, and emus, and more. Around 80 animals, with about 22 different species, live at a residence just south of Meadowlake Park.
April Daniel owns A2Z Therapeutic Petting Zoo with her husband, Zack.
“Animals helping humans by heart, hooves and paws,” April said. “If you leave here with a smile, and you get to ignore all of the bad, ... then we’ve done a good job.”
After April and Zack got married, they moved to Enid for Zack’s job with the railroad. April was a teacher’s assistant for preschool and kindergarten classes and had always wanted to have a therapeutic animal, but she didn’t want a regular cat or dog.
“I told [Zack] that I wanted a wallaby, and he said, ‘Baby, you’re not going to get your hands on a wallaby,’” April said. “Well, I’m one of those people who, if you tell me I can’t do it, then I’m going to do it, so I called around, got my licenses and talked to all the right people.”
April brought home Wallace the wallaby, and afterward, the animals just continued to multiply.
As they got more and more, April said, she remembered being a child wanting to interact and engage with animals. So she told Zack she wanted to open up their lives with the animals to the public and allow children and adults to have that hands-on experience.
“If you can touch an animal, then you care more about it, and I wanted it to be like that,” April said.
About three years ago, Zack said, they decided to make A2Z Therapeutic Petting Zoo a reality. The couple filled out the paperwork and obtained the necessary licenses — which have to be renewed every year for the first three years, and then afterward, every three years.
At first, A2Z operated as a traveling petting zoo , going to events in Northwestern Oklahoma, but mostly in Enid. But by word-of-mouth, April and Zack started taking a handful of animals to Watonga, Cherokee, Newkirk and more towns.
Following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zack said A2Z went to various schools.
“The schools wouldn’t let the kids do field trips, so we were basically their field trips,” Zack said.
People will typically decide which few animals they want to come out to their events. April and Zack send organizers a list of animals they have, and if the animals are up for it that day — because their well-being is the most important thing, they said — the Danielses will load them up and head out.
Recently, A2Z opened its doors to the public by appointment only, “to keep it more personal.”
“We wanted to keep it to where you feel like part of the family — where you get to learn about the animals,” Zack said.
“We try to make you feel at home here,” April added.
Zack said he and April try to get a new animal every one or two years. Their newest one is Einstein, a ruffed lemur. The animals have all become family to the Danielses, Zack said, and he and April treat them all like their own children.
“While we have these animals, they get treated better than most humans get treated,” April said. “All of the animals that we get, they stay here for life. ... This is their forever home.”
That’s what the Danielses want people to know.
“Not every petting zoo is like Joe Exotic,” Zack said.
All the money A2Z makes goes back to the animals for food and veterinarian bills, April said.
“We’re not doing this to get rich or to make a big profit,” she said.
Seeing community members interact with the animals and be happy, makes April and Zack happy.
“It’s really fun to see people’s reactions to the animals, especially kids,” Zack said. “It’s a lot of work. … This is an all-day job taking care of animals, cleaning their enclosures and everything. It is tiring and exhausting, but whenever you have the people come out — that’s worth a million dollars to us.”