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'Super friendly, non-traditional'

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Fun, educational and exotic. That's how Zilli Zi Zoo 2 Go promotes itself with a wide variety of animals 'guaranteed to wow all ages.'

Marisa Zilli, 20, and Zi Van Daalen, 17, started their mobile Zoo 2 Go in mid-July.

It's a partnership with years of experience – Zilli, a licensed rehabber, has worked with animals (dogs, rats, cats, raccoons, opossums, weasels, and more) for more than a decade. Van Daalen has specialized in reptiles since she was 13-14 years old.

"She likes mammals, I like reptiles, it's worked out well," said Van Daalen. "The opposites really complemented each other. We had started talking about it and eventually we just made it happen... after a lot of talking."

"I train (animals) for commercials, movies, and television shows," said Zilli. "My rat, who was just doing (basketball) tricks... has been on TMZ, Animal Planet, Pick TV, Global TV, and she's been in a couple films."

In 2012 Zilli and her five-year-old border collie Nana made a special appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. She's also been on the Rachael Ray Show.

"Jimmy Fallon (Tonight Show) contacted me, and they said the only reason they weren't going to have us on is because we were on Letterman and they didn't want to copy them. I said 'fair enough.'"

Zilli, from Eden, and Tillsonburg's Van Daalen are offering their Zoo 2 Go services for birthday parties, schools, camps, fairs, special events, youth groups, seniors' residences, special needs groups, fundraisers, churches and more.

"We're taking whatever work is offered," said Zilli at their Tillsonburg Tri-County Fair booth Saturday afternoon with Van Daalen's younger sister, Jillian.

"It's nice that I have a business partner because I am all over the place with my studio work with the animals."

Most of their exotics live at Zilli's facility, with a few at the Van Daalen home.

"I have the permits for a lot of the more exotic animals," said Zilli, who had a white-nosed coati (Zed) at the fair Saturday along with a Brazilian opossum (which would hang by its tail from people's fingers), skinny pigs (almost hairless breed of Guinea pigs), ball python, a massive bullfrog, and African pygmy hedgehog.

So far, Zilli Zi Zoo 2 Go has been at two summer events – Bayham Beachfest in Port Burwell on the Civic Holiday weekend, and last weekend's Tillsonburg Tri-County Fair.

"Our animals are super-friendly and extremely well socialized," said Zilli. "They love people, and it's nice to see them get what they love – meeting people. The kids, the adults, it's really nice for them to see the non-traditional animals."

"They can see animals from all around the world, all in one spot," said Jillian. "They're lots of fun, and they're cute."

"The other thing I like about this," said Zilli, "is that people will see this animal on the Internet, they'll want to buy this animal, but they don't realize how much work it is. With us, they can still enjoy the animals, but they don't have to experience all the 'hassle' of living with all these crazy critters. I like to have that option for people. I think it's good for the animals, especially the exotics, because I don't like to see them going through home after home after home..."

Their collection of exotics is always growing – Zi Van Daalen was in Woodstock Saturday picking up a three-foot lizard (tegu).

"We have 55 animals right now, 56 when she gets back with the lizard," said Zilli, "so we're expanding. But we only bring about 20 to events. Sometimes will swap out different ones at each event."

"It's a pretty big lizard," nodded Zi at the fair Saturday evening, holding the tegu. "She's great though, she's really awesome."

It's the biggest reptile Van Daalen has owned, but not the biggest she's worked with.

"I've worked with alligators," Van Daalen smiled, recalling her year with Little Ray's Reptile Zoo.

In time, Zilli said she sees their Zoo 2 Go growing.

"Eventually we'd like to have a public facility," she said. "In the future..."

"Near future," Van Daalen qualified.

"As soon as the funds are there basically," Zilli nodded.

You can contact Zilli and Van Daalen through their website, www.zillizizoo2go.com.

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