To walk with the animals

Christian Lilienthal, a rural Arlington farmer who raises animals from all over the world and leases animal exhibits to zoos, museums and community events, proposes to create a “Kangaroo Island” of sorts in a small lake on the north side of Gaylord.

Christian Lilienthal often gets up close and personal with his herd of exotic animals including a camel on his farm near Arlington.

Walking into one of Christian Lilienthal’s barns, you can see and hear a variety of animals scurry about. Some of them stare at you. Others even talk to you.

“Hello, hello,” say macaws, sounding quite human-like. Then they screech rather loudly.

Lemurs, native to Madagascar, appear to be a cross between a dog, cat and squirrel, stare are you with beady eyes. They tightly grab the bars of a seven-foot tall steel cage with their long fingers and pull themselves around with their long legs and toes.

On a tour of his stock, Lilienthal stops to hold a muntjac, also known as barking deer and Manstreani deer. They are of great interest in evolutionary studies due to their dramatic chromosome variations.

Native to South Asia, the species can be found in Indian, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the Indonesian islands, Taiwan, Southern China, Nepal, Bhutan and Japan. They have been introduced in Britain and Ireland.

Christian Lilienthal cuddles a muntjac, a miniature deer also known as a barking deer.

Lilienthal goes into a larger barn and takes a camel for a walk in his corral.

In a larger corral, albino deer and a number of bird varieties are found, getting along just fine.

His farm is not open to the public but Lilienthal recently proposed to the Gaylord City Council the idea of creating a “Kangaroo Island” of sorts on a small lake with two small islands on the north edge of town.

Gaylord City Administrator Lory Young said the city council took no action on the proposal yet, other than researching it.

Lilienthal said the heavily-wooded islands would have to be reached by air boat in the shallow lake and that the animals and birds would remain in cages during the summer season, if he is able to buy the islands, now owned by the City of Gaylord.

In a large corral, albino deer get along well with a variety of birds.

He has hopes of moving some of his animals to the island next year.

“In theory, it should work,” Lilienthal said.

Lilienthal posted on Facebook last week that he’s looking for support at the next Gaylord City Council meeting, set for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 19.

For years, Lilienthal has leased animal exhibits to the Minnesota Zoo and taken them to community events including Christmas pageants, county fairs and museums. His animals are not part of petting zoo exhibits, but some of his animals can be petted.

Lilienthal loads large, enclosed trailers with his animals and plants and creates displays to imitate their natural environment.

Kangaroos can be as curious about people are we are about them.

He said his exotic animals that come from zoos and other regulated sources, are closely regulated by federal agencies.

A former University of Minnesota professor of agricultural production systems, Lilienthal spent much of his tenure creating custom housing and nutrition plans, trouble shooting agronomy and livestock production challenges and teaching beginning farmer and environmental safety classes.

While a University of Minnesota student, Lilienthal continued to farm. He began raising exotic animals that he brought to classroom visits, community events and large displays at fairs.

During his junior year at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, (CFANS), he joined a study abroad program in Australia. He worked with sharks, tortoises and other animals at a zoo in Sydney.

When he came back home, Lilienthal started raising a wallaby in his dorm room. He’d take it for walks and to some of the places he went.

“I get to do what I’ve always loved,” Lilienthal said. “I farm with my family and get to explore a world’s worth of plant and animal biology and share what I learn with others.”

Lilienthal said he has received lots of assistance from his former professors.

“We really emphasize keeping animals in groups and community pens but do very little breeding,” Lilienthal said. “We don’t consider ourselves ‘animal trainers’ in the sense that we don’t teach tricks or give rides. We just work towards getting each of our animals to a level of comfort with general health checks and daily care.”

He orders a Purina line of kangaroo food from his local feed mill. His other animals eat things like mice, crickets, hay and grains.

The farm, part of Wild Things Zoo Attractions, is open only to staff that includes family members, international and collegiate interns, veterinarians and compliance inspectors.

He offered some sage advice to college students.

“If you need to know about something, take a class on it,” Lilienthal said. “Even if it doesn’t fit into your degree program, keep in mind that college is about getting an education more than it is about getting a degree. Take classes to learn and learn from your classes.”

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