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Local exotic animal lovers invite you to experience their turtles and kinkajous and anteaters, oh my!

They made a zoo

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Heather wants us to know that she's made margaritas.

The host of 'Henry and Heather's mini zoo' Airbnb Experience preempted this offer with an even more important statement: "I hope you like dogs."

And dogs you'll get when you step into H&H's home (the couple asked not to use their last name for this article). Kona the golden retriever is as friendly as the three greyhounds that accompany him, including two eight month olds who practically jump out of their skin with delight.

It takes everything in me not to drop to the floor and hang out here the whole time. "Heather, I freaking love dogs!" I assure her.

But I'm here on more important business. I'm here to see anteaters.

First, though, we've got to make our proper rounds through the "zoo." Not to be confused with a dingy backyard piece of property, H&H's gorgeous three-story house and surrounding marsh is the zoo of zoos. Like, the movie where the couple buys a zoo. Except H&H created this. And they're passionate about it.

We start with the turtles: Heather and Henry are part of the TSA, the Turtle Survival Alliance. Their job is to help with critically endangered species, like the Chinese Box Turtles, which are smuggled all over the world. Heather tells us that there's "a lot of money" in turtle smuggling, with people stuffing the small baby turtles in anything from water bottles to shirt pockets.

The unnamed turtle I hold is strong, trying to walk out of my palm. He, surprisingly, calms down when I scratch the top of his head. Who knew? After these turtles get a little bigger, Heather and Henry will send them back to the TSA, who will give them to zoos.

I know, I know sad stuff. But that's part of what this Airbnb Experience is all about — education and awareness. As a newly inducted member into the fans-of-turtles-worldwide club, I'm here for it.

RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith

After we hobnob with the palm-sized turtles, we make our way to Fred. The African Spurred Tortoise lives outside in an enclosure, where he stomps around, eats five or six bananas at a time, has a heated house to go into when the temps drop below 50 degrees, and also (you'll see there's a theme here), enjoys having his head scratched.

Fred is 15 years old and around 50 pounds; he is indeed a teenager, with his expected lifespan over 100 years and his final weight estimated at over 200 pounds. We feed Fred bananas and Heather tells us that he eats lots of salads throughout the day, too.

Fred knows his name and where he once ate bananas off of the ground, he now prefers them hand fed. Heather and Henry don't seem to mind, and it's a fun activity for the Experience attendees. He may not be particularly cuddly, but Fred reminds me a heck of a lot of Kona the golden retriever.

After feeding Fred, we walk across the yard to meet Piggy, a kinkajou. A nocturnal creature, Piggy hisses at us as we approach. This, Heather tells us, is not a threat. Piggy's just chatting with us. I have trouble putting my finger on what this furry, long creature looks like. He reminds me a heck of a lot of my grumpy dog (Piggy only likes Heather and is mean and territorial around Henry). Kinkajous, though, are not dogs: They get their names from a word that means Honey Bear, because in the wild they raid beehives for honey.

Piggy the kinkajou loves Heather - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Piggy the kinkajou loves Heather

Kinkajous look a bit like monkeys and are related to raccoons and possums. When Heather opens Piggy's cage, he latches onto her, looking at the rest of us with suspicious eyes. As cute as he is (hey, I like grumps), Piggy isn't really an Airbnb Experience cuddler. We take pictures from afar while Piggy settles back into his house and Heather and Henry prepare for the main event.

Because as I said, we're all here for the anteaters.

Sporting red and pink harnesses, respectively, Artie and Samantha saunter out to meet their guests. And they're so cute. They're so cute!

I'll admit, I was hesitant to love an anteater. The long snout, the long tail (snakelike, almost), and the very long tongue are kinda weird. You get over that really fast. Their harnesses have bows on them for god's sake!

Heather and Henry are the only owners of anteaters in the state of South Carolina. These fuzzy four-legged ant-binging creatures (they really love ants) inspired the whole Airbnb Experiences thing. H&H already rented part of their house for Airbnb, so when Experiences were created, they looked around at their certifiable zoo and realized they could offer more than just room and board.

RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith

Anteaters, according to a useful fact sheet the couple hands out at the beginning of the Experience, are arboreal, which means they live in trees. This is abundantly clear in anteater Samantha, who takes every opportunity she has to scurry to the nearest tree and start climbing. Heather nicknamed Samantha "velcro," because once she's on a tree — especially one whose trunk has great grip, like, oh, say, a palmetto tree — she ain't coming down anytime soon.

Artie, which is short for Artiglio (Big Claw in Italian, and also in experience, but definitely worth it) is a bit more chill than Samantha, with his attention mostly focused on eating ants out of a plastic champagne flute. Because what's an experience if you aren't having a little fun with it?

Heather notes that Samantha loves to cuddle with Kona the dog, but other than that there isn't too much interspecies interaction, which is fairly incredible, considering how many animals reside in this zoo. Then again, the animal kingdom is generally far better behaved than us humans.

If not for the marshview, or the friendly hosts, or even the opportunity to pet a furry, exotic creature, head to Heather and Henry's home for the chance to see just a little bit of harmony in our chaotic world. Let's all be more like Samantha and Kona, now, shall we?

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