When Mateo Lobo-Worger turned six, he had 16 buddies, a few gorillas, snakes and monkeys at his birthday party.
Well, not exactly, but that’s how Mateo tells it.
After several home birthday parties and a bash at Shakers, Mateo decided to mark his December 30 occasion at one of his favourite places on Earth.
The Calgary Zoo’s rainforest.
His mom Erika had found the birthday party package online and it “just made sense,” says the manager of a downtown gym and veteran Engage member. “Mateo loves animals and has a lot of friends which meant a huge mess for me and a lot of work if we hosted a house party. This was so easy.”
The Calgary Zoo began offering three themed birthday parties in 2004. In the first year it hosted 50 birthday parties with 1,131 participants. So popular has the program become that the zoo has added more themes and options such as catering and gift bags, which has helped grow those numbers to last year’s annual total of 297 birthday parties.
The age of the birthday child (between three and 12) and the theme (animals of the savannah, rainforest, Canadian Wilds or Penguin Plunge) determines the program, but most, like Mateo’s party, include an interactive interpretive talk in a classroom, a tour of the themed area (in Mateo’s case it was the rainforest), a craft, a meal (you bring the cake) and if there’s time to open presents — well, there’s that too.
“We opened up my presents back at home,” explains Mateo, showing me a bin of new Lego kits that he received. “There were so many other things to do at the zoo.”
“Look at my masterpiece,” explains Mateo, showing me a paper and pipe cleaner cut-out monkey with a baby wrapped around the mommy’s waist (Mateo’s addition). “Most of my friends made fox bat masks, but I like monkeys better.
“And I love Kakinga (the big silverback), ’cuz he sooooo big,” adds Mateo. “Did you know he gets to eat first ’cuz the other gorillas are a little afraid of him, and then they eat afterward? And did you know that sometimes the gorillas get treats like baked apples that are hidden somewhere and they have to really work to get the surprise? And did you know . . . ”
Erika interrupts her enthusiastic son: “How many birthday parties actually teach kids something they’re really keen on knowing more about? What we all now know about gorillas is amazing.”
(Birthday party packages start at $275 and include admission for up to 20 people. More guests can be added for $14.50 each, with a maximum group size of 25. Engage and Inspire members receive a 10% discount.)
More information can be found here.