Some people (OK, lots of people) are obsessed with the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. However, if your own fantasy nuptials involve details that are both a tad more down to earth and simultaneously even wilder than the upcoming zoo at Windsor Castle, the Como Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, has got you covered.
The Star Tribune recently reported on the zoological park’s animal ambassador program, where creatures including sloths, penguins, armadillos, parrot, tegu, turtles and tortoises, snakes, frogs and toads, geckos and skinks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, giant millipedes, cave roaches and a variety of arachnids can join you on your big day as V.I.P. guests and educate the humans in attendance, as well. The cost? $250 an hour (regardless of what type of animal you request), which is less than the average price per head of the typical wedding guest, which has skyrocketed to $268 since 2017 according to The Knot.
PEOPLE spoke to Como Zoo’s event coordinator Lindsay Sypnieski to learn more about this unusual program.
What species is the most popular or most requested animal ambassador?
By far the most requested are our penguins, followed closely by our sloth animal ambassadors. After all, the penguins are already dressed for the occasion so why wouldn’t you invite them?
Can you have more than one animal or species at the wedding?
We can offer more than one animal or species for our events. Most of our wedding clients will stick to one ambassador, but often we will have multiple for corporate clients. It isn’t unheard of to have a penguin and an armadillo in the same room. We just coordinate the room set-up to make sure we have good flow for the guests and to not overwhelm the animals. [We spread] out so there isn’t a whole red carpet paparazzi situation.
How are the animals cared for during the event?
The care for the animals is our staff’s top priority. Animals that are brought to events are escorted by a highly trained Educator who knows how to look for signs of stress, which can be different for every animal. The animals that are part of the ambassador program are selected based on their individual personalities. Just like humans, some animals like to be around people while others don’t. The animals that do like to be around people go through their own training to be comfortable with crating to get to the event spaces and to get used to the variety of environments they might be in. The Educator will often include a hiding spot for the animal to go in if they want to take a break from their audience. The animals will have treats, as well as fun enrichment items they enjoy to help create a fun and safe environment for them. Our animal ambassadors are out for one hour with the educator, at maximum, for weddings. If the animal displays signs of stress, they may be removed early if it is in the best interest for the animal. Here at Como, we have a “no touch” policy for guests, but photos are welcome! We definitely see a lot of guests taking selfies with our ambassadors.
Do you have any crazy stories about animal mishaps at a wedding?
Fortunately, we haven’t had any crazy experiences with our animal ambassadors. It takes a lot of effort and training for the animals and staff that take the animals to these events to make sure they are comfortable and safe. We don’t want to put our animals into situations that cause them stress, so we really don’t have any crazy stories to share. Now, crazy animal ambassador requests … we could write a book about that! I’m thinking of the groom [who] asked me if we could put one of our polar bears on a leash and walk it around their reception. That was a hard no.
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Are there any recent updates to the current ambassador animal list?
We have an awesome chinchilla named Sassy who is also part of our Animal Ambassador program and isn’t on the list above. She is very dynamic and has been a popular request for our Non-Profit Partner Como Friends for their events. We also have fruit bats that are really interesting (although not typically a popular wedding choice, they were recently selected by a bride in February and they were a big hit!).