With the cost of living getting ever higher here in the UK we understand as much as the next person that feeling of being more restricted than ever when booking experiences and making purchases- we’ve had a few comments recently along the lines of prices not being affordable, or deferring to other companies who might be cheaper, so as the new year is approaching, and we’ve been reviewing our service charges for 2024, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain where your money goes, and what you get for it when you choose to book experiences with us.
So, what do you get for your money?
Quality- First of all, we really do pride on ourselves on our level of professional experience, which we feel reflects in the services we deliver- all of our senior rangers are from professional animal care backgrounds, meaning each one of us has literally dedicated our lives to careers in animal care, starting out with literally hundreds of accumulated hours of volunteering and internship and a minimum of 10 years paid professional keeper experience at a number of animal collections (mainly zoos), partaking in animal husbandry, handling, healthcare and transportation as well as displays, presentations and education, working with a huge range of species. These experiences in our previous careers have given us all the prefect foundation for moving into outreach and encounters independently, knowing what and how to do it right.
Not only that but we are qualified too! We all have animal care diplomas or equivalent as well as university degrees in animal care subjects, and a few other bits along the way including (depending on which senior ranger you get on the day) teaching qualifications and certificates in herpetology, LANTRA falconry, bird of prey first aid and management, as well as mental health, special needs, neurodivergence and animal assisted therapy- the latter of which all cross over into so much of what we do, so keeping up to date and informed in these areas allows us to better adapt to the needs of a more diverse client base.
Furthermore, we take part in regular CPD in the form of attending conferences, workshops and symposiums to keep upskilling in subjects from animal care, education, presenting and training animals for education programmes to name a few! And for your peace of mind, our senior rangers are all DBS checked and emergency first aid trained.
With all this in mind, I’m sure you’d agree it would be inappropriate to pay our senior rangers a minimum wage for the encounters experiences they deliver- Safety and welfare are absolute key ingredients for us when facilitating animal interactions, so rangers have a huge responsibility when working out on bookings, not only taking the best possible care of our ambassador animals, but your little ones (or event guests) too, while delivering quality encounters and presentations experiences. I will say that for myself as head honcho it is not quite the same- as any other self employed person will tell you, I'm frequently up all hours taking care of the animals, attending to email enquiries, updating the socials and developing our services or working on research and personal learning- I have almost forgotten what a day off looks like, but that’s animal keeper life for you! We certainly don’t charge enough for me to compensate myself for all the hours I put in, but I believe strongly in paying the seniors I employ fairly).
We try our very best to provide a range of experiences to suit all budgets and have made minimal changes to the price list for 2024- While keeping ourselves accessible is of huge importance to us, we ask that you keep in mind that looking after exotic animals properly and with high welfare standards is very expensive and so we are bound by the physical costs incurred by running a business such as this. Any price rises directly reflect the rise in our own running costs.
We match our prices with companies we align with in terms of ethos, mission, experience and background rather than compete- It is important to us not to undercut other encounters companies- we are allies after all, and we all offer services that vary in what we specialise in. If we are unable to provide something specific that you request, we will always make recommendations to other trusted organisations where we can.
So, as well as highly experienced rangers and top quality animal welfare, what else do you get when you book with us? In terms of the experience itself- do not expect “animal pass the parcel”! Although we make our encounters as interactive and hands on as possible, we aim to provide variety in the format that each animal is presented not only to keep it really interesting and fun for the kids/guests, but a positive experience for the animals too- we include feeding demos with some of the animals to reward them while working, and some might demonstrate their adaptations or special skills- camouflage, flying, running or climbing. Some animals will come to you rather than us just passing each animal around- we are all about consent and respect! We might also have artefacts to look at and touch such as shed skins and fossils to enhance the experience and keep everyone engaged.
We do not cram more animals into a session than will allow for quality, meaningful encounters with each species for every participant, and we have curated what we feel is the best number of animals per time slot option to give the best experience. The birthday child will get special treatment (and a small gift at the end) of course, but we make sure the sessions are super interactive for everyone else as well (and everyone gets a sticker!).
We use leak-proof soft blankets to go on laps with some of our animals, providing a layer of comfort for the children, protecting bare skin and nice party clothes from scratchy claws, and if any of the animals go to the toilet (hey, it happens occasionally, but don’t worry, we always have clean-up kit and sanitiser on hand!). We also lay down a leak-proof jungle themed floor mat to protect your carpet or flooring from any soiling, so when we leave, you’d never know we were there.
Details matter when delivering experiences, from your Ranger arriving on time and looking smart, to having an attractive display and meeting well trained, happy animals in excellent condition, and making sure your experience with us is so much more than just getting to touch animals- we strive to make everyone’s encounter is an educational one, reaching beyond the hour you might spend with us, and so the back of our flyers directs those who want a little more to a special section on our website where we’ve built a directory of resources for parents and young people to learn more about all aspects of conservation, such as how to get involved with a local beach clean, make a bird feeder and invite wildlife into your garden, and how to talk to your kids about climate change, recycle and live more sustainably. We also regularly update our social media with educational posts and videos and we invite everyone we interact with to be part of our growing community.
What do we do with your money?
Believe it or not, almost two thirds of our earnings go towards covering the costs of the business! Our costs include rangers wages, massive electricity bills (the majority of our creatures require special heating, basking lamps and UV lighting, we also run dehumidifiers, fans, fridge freezers and filtration systems), animal feeds (from dry mixes, to frozen meals for snakes and owl, to live insects, fresh fruits and veggies and supplements), vet care and medicines, substrates, bedding, equipment, toys and enrichment, maintaining and upgrading enclosures, and then there’s more boring essentials such as licensing (Animal Activities License), insurance (vehicle and PLI), DBS, website, uniforms, vehicle upkeep and fuel, accounting, etc etc. Whoever said we’re in this for the money has not worked with animals before!
A note on charging for VIP handling experiences at events:
Oftentimes, organisations such as charities and schools invite us to attend fundraising events- we have to charge a fee to attend all events in order to cover the costs described above, and at these events we typically allow guests to hold and interact with the insects as well as touch and stroke animals such as reptiles, hedgehogs and rats, while the rangers hold them, free of charge. That said, we know that many folks would like a more personal hands-on experience, and so we also offer VIP handling experiences, where for a very small charge, events guests are allowed to hold and handle the reptiles and mammals as well as our tarantulas and scorpions. For clients on low budgets, charging for VIP handling allows us to keep our base rates lower, and more accessible, as we can make up our money on VIP experiences on the day, while you the client gets to offer more options to event guests. Clients have the option to opt out of VIP handling experiences for if they don’t want guests to be charged extra, and their guests can still touch and stroke the animals, just without the VIP options. On the flip-side, for larger/bigger budget clients, who want VIP handling experiences free of charge for all their guests on the day, we can bolt on the cost of VIPs to the main price. If you're booking an event with us, talk to us about the best format for you.
Why do we charge extra for outdoor VS indoor encounters at events?
When we set up our encounters on a pitch outdoors, a significant increase in time and effort is incurred both while loading/unloading at base, as well as when setting up at the location and so our working day is longer than when working indoors. Our gazebo looks awesome, but is large and cumbersome to handle, access may not be as good, we have to prepare for all weathers with floor mats, extra climate control such as portable battery for powering reptile heat mats, if we get wet, the canvas will need taking out and drying back at base. If the weather is very hot, we might find ourselves moving our set up around to keep the animals cool and shaded throughout the day which also incurs a lot more faff! When working indoors we can get in and out more easily, better access to electricity, climate control is easier and we don't have to worry about enduring the weather and all the extra admin that can create!
Why we will not be making any unpaid visits from 2024 onwards
We have on occasion worked events for free and only taken money from donations and VIP handling experiences but unfortunately the majority of these occasions have resulted in us making a financial loss (due to wages going out and/or having to turn down paid bookings), so as much as we would like to do as much as we can in the community, and to work with non-profits and charities, at the end of the day, we are a very small business with very large overheads and we have to pay our bills in order to be able to keep running, so from Jan 2024 we regret that we will no longer be attending any event free of charge, and hope that the would-be organisations hosting us for these events understand our position.
On a side note, I’d like to take the opportunity to remind clients that under The Animal Welfare Regulation 2018, all encounters companies are required by law to have an Animal Activities License and Public Liability Insurance- guidelines stipulate we must display our AAL certificate number on the front page of our website, so please be sure while shopping around that you only engage with licensed and insured companies. Working with independent hobbyists who might offer to bring their pets to an event to show may not be insured in the event of an event guest being injured by an animal, and you cannot be assured of their welfare at home, since they won’t have undergone inspections as license holders do.
Hopefully this article has given a little insight into some of the hidden costs of running an animal business, and help you understand where your hard-earned pennies go when you choose to book with us, but also what you get back for your money in terms of services. You can see why it can be so hurtful to be accused by activists as exploiting our animals for financial gain. The honest truth is that for many of us, the business is in fact something of a lifestyle choice that just about pays for itself and allows us to carry on doing what we love by sharing our animals and knowledge with others, create magic moments, memories to last a lifetime and hopefully inspire the next generation to do their bit and help take care of our planet and build a better future for wildlife.