Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

It's animal house: Family's menagerie includes boa constrictor, pythons, lizards, chameleons, bearded dragons ...

... geckos, tortoises, toads, an African bull frog, scorpions, a giant centipede, giant African land snails, various leaf insects, guinea pigs, rabbits, a hedgehog ... oh, and two dogs and two cats

David Thompson shows off some of the family's exotic pets
David Thompson shows off some of the family's exotic pets
Some of the Thompson family's exotic pets
Some of the Thompson family's exotic pets
Some of the Thompson family's exotic pets
Some of the Thompson family's exotic pets

While many people complain that a busy home is at times like living in a zoo, one Comber family have taken that literally.

From the outside, David and Rachel Thompson's house looks just like any other, but once you step through their front door things are not all that they seem.

Like many families, the Thompsons have a number of pets, including two dogs and two cats.

But the list does not stop there. They also have an 8ft boa constrictor; two royal pythons; a dwarf boa; a sinaloan milk snake; a baby corn snake; a bosc monitor; a green iguana; a tegu lizard; a giant plated lizard; a uromastyx lizard; two baby chameleons; seven bearded dragons; two leopard geckos; two spy horsefield tortoises; a sulcata tortoise; three fire-bellied toads; a horned frog, two tree frogs and an African bull frog.

There's also four spiders; two scorpions; a giant centipede; two millipedes; two giant African land snails; leaf insects; stick insects; grasshoppers; beetles; a chinchilla; Chilean degus; guinea pigs, an African hedgehog and various rabbits.

With so many animals living under their roof the family plans to make the collection into a 'mobile micro zoo', with the aim of taking their love of the exotic on the road to educate and entertain.

The couple live in Comber with their daughters Jakie and Orla-Rose and sons Nathaniel and Kai. Nathaniel was born with kidney failure, which was soon treated, and Orla-Rose was born with a degenerative heart condition. Kai, their youngest, was diagnosed as having autism, while Orla-Rose has since shown similar, less severe, symptoms of it.

Despite always having a love of reptiles, it was not until six years ago that they bought their first to help with the children's learning.

Rachel said: "Our first ones were fire-bellied toads, and Nathaniel was into those. We then got some fire-bellied newts to go with them.

"Nathaniel got a land snail, and so did Kai, and they loved them because they used to play snail races. His name is Curly. My daughter tried to jump out of the car because there was a money spider in it, so we thought we'd cure her arachnaphobia and got Legs (a Chilean Rose Tarantula), which she ended up having tea parties with in the tank."

Rachel said they also looked into how sensory experiences would be good for Kai.

"We found he was attracted to certain smells, touch, fabric, and he was very into the scorpions and the snakes, so he has a snake called Bob. He pops that around him when he's stressed and walks about with it to feel better."

Kai would often take his pets into school, and David and Rachel have put on shows for the children at Comber Primary.

But it was only when one of Nathaniel's teachers suggested that they should do it for a living that they began to seriously consider it, and are now moving ahead with the idea.

They have received no financial support for Party Animals NI and are paying for it all for themselves.

"Every penny we have now goes on the children and the animals," Rachel added.

Having so many pets can lead to a hectic work schedule from dawn until dusk.

Rachel said: "We get up in the morning, get the kids sorted, and then start on the animals. We can still be doing it up to 11 o'clock at night – it's neverending, but I wouldn't swap it for the world."

Party Animals NI can be booked for various events such as parties or school visits. For information, email partyanimalsni@gmail.com

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