Arlington man has unique
collection of animals
If you could talk with the animals, they’d
tell you their names.
Jude the Camel.
Rocky the Wallaby.
Lurch the Emu.
Ollie the Macaw.
Dalai the Llama.
Roxy the Foxy.
They’re all in the menagerie of exotic animals normally not seen outside of a
metropolitan location but now living on a rural Sibley County farm, less than
five miles south of Arlington.
Christian Lilienthal’s growing zoo farm family also has llamas, kangaroos,
ostriches, peacocks, parrots and others who are available for family or
organizational tours and are part of his Animal Talks educational programs that
appeal to audiences of any age with facts and stories from around the world.
Animal husbandry has been a part of Christian’s life ever since he was young,
when he began raising pheasants during his middle school years. Having grown up
on his parents’ beef cattle farm, there also were plenty of dogs, cats, ducks,
swans, turkeys and chickens running around too.
“Pheasants probably were my starting point,” said Lilienthal, “They were easy
to raise, and I enjoyed their beautiful colors, and I just kept going from
there,” he said.
A graduate of Sibley East High School who earned an FFA American Farmer Degree,
he attended the University of Minnesota, and his interest in exotic animals
developed when he applied for an internship in Sydney, Australia, during
While working at Sydney’s Ocean World he was part of the curatorial and exhibit
staff. There he helped feed sharks, crocodiles, sea turtles or stingrays and
worked with pythons, squids and octopuses. When he returned to the states, the
2009 U of M agriculture major obtained his USDA zookeepers license and started
his exotic animal zoo in a converted former hog barn on his parents’ farm.
“We got out of raising hogs about 15 years ago, and this building was being
used just for storage. So with pens facing a southern exposure, it worked well
in becoming a home for the animals,” he explained. As a zookeeper, he’s also
licensed by the state for special species and is required to have a second
fence, at least 6 feet high, around the pens to keep the animals safe from
predators or unwanted personnel. There are also very strict animal welfare requirements,
disease management and a lot of inspections, plus regular veterinarian visits
for animal health checkups.
He mixes a lot of his own feed for the animals but is able to buy his kangaroo
food that’s made by a Minnesota company and sold through a commercial business
in Gaylord. The shelter accommodations for his animals have helped them adapt
well to Minnesota’s winter climate conditions. He has a 2 ½-acre pen for the
animals and 3 acres for his newly acquired threesome of albino whitetail deer.
“The kangaroos have an insulated pen with a space heater, but they like the
sun,” explained Christian. “It can be cold outside, but if the sun is shining,
they’ll be out and about, but if the temperature is warmer and it’s cloudy,
they like to be inside.”
“Jude” the camel has no real issues as she sheds hair in the spring and grows a
thick coat in the fall. “But they have soft pads on the bottom of their feet,
so you have to watch for any foot problems when it gets really cold,” Christian
noted. He says what’s interesting about camels is that their milk stays good
for eight to ten days in 85-degree heat without a need for pasteurization or
His young kangaroos get special treatment to help them become comfortable with
visitors and noises they might experience when attending shows or exhibits.
“When they’re about 6 months old, I’ll take them into my house and start bottle
feeding them. They’re with me all the time. They eat every three or four hours
until about 10 months old. It’s fun to watch them hop up the stairs needing
just two jumps but then need all 16 steps to go back down.”
Each animal or bird has interesting stories and facts to share. For example,
emu’s like to sit down to maintain body heat and cool off by standing up, and
they like being outside, too. They have claws on their wings, are flightless
and breed during the coldest time of the year. The male sits on the eggs and
doesn’t leave the nest to eat or drink for 56 days. The emu chick is over a
foot tall when it hatches.
His first acquisition and his favorite is Rocky the wallaby, who arrived on the
farm while Lilienthal was still a student at the U of M in 2009. “He has a very
muscular body, curious, friendly and a distant relative of the kangaroo,”
Christian noted. Another is the silver fox which Christian says he can hold for
over an hour while talking at a nursing home. “I can’t even hold my cats that
long,” he laughed. She’s got a beautiful sliver-black coat and puffy tail with
a little white tip on the end. When not entertaining guests she likes to roll
around with the farm dog, Spud.
Through his Animal Talks program he enjoys sharing his knowledge by speaking
and showing a mix of selected animals to groups at fairs, formal presentations,
community celebrations and other events, along with frequent classroom visits
for students. He entertains all ages – small children, teenagers, parents and
seniors. “It’s something fun to do; it’s a love for animal learning and is a
good outlet to teach.”
Christian has traveled to six of the seven continents, having recently returned
from Antarctica. “A lot of time when I do presentations it will include
travel-related experiences,” he said. “I’ve checked out zoos in other
countries, and it helps me to be more of a qualified caretaker and opportunity
to interact and have fun with a lot of different people as an education
presenter,” he said.
Having his zoo comes with a lot of responsibility for the animals he cares for,
but he finds it all worthwhile as he continues to learn about different animals
and share what he’s learned. But his zoo is just one of his jobs. He’s also an
agricultural extension educator in Nicollet County and farms with his dad,
growing 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans and raising 800 beef cattle annually.
He and his wife, Jena, live on a separate farm site, just a mile from the home
farm. “My family is really a blessing, working with the animals to fill in on
days I’m not here,” he added.
He believes his love for teaching and communicating developed in part through
being an ambassador while in 4-H and in being a state officer serving as FFA
president. “I’m interested in science and biology and that helps to teach
people about the animals as I guess I’m the local expert now,” he commented.
Entering it’s fourth year, Christian says the zoo is slowly progressing. “It’s
not a showplace yet, but I’m taking it slow and my goal is to add more animals,
build my infrastructure and mobile exhibit to focus more on Australian
animals,” he stated.
To have a farm zoo experience and visit the animals up close, Christian says
it’s best to make an appointment for the onsite guided tour. His facility is
designed to accommodate walking as well as bus tours for the elderly or
mobility challenged during a one hour visit to see both young and adult animals.
To make an appointment, go to the website: animaltalks.weebly.com or call
507-381-0582. Donations are accepted to help with animal care expenses.