The two little week-old chicks wriggle around in my hands, tripping over one another in an adorable bundle of feathers.
Next to me, my 22-month-old daughter giggles at the sight, extending a tiny little finger to tickle their bald heads.
I’ve never held chicks before and I dart a glance at Head Keeper Abigail Carter, who smiles encouragingly.
“These little guys hatched out less than a week ago,” she tells us.
“We’ll rear them until they’re big enough to go in the barn and then, other than taking care of them, we leave them to it - they’re free to play and breed with whoever they want.”
We’re at the Tropical Butterfly House, in North Anston, where these chicks are a sure sign that everything is in full Easter bloom. Thousands of people come here every single year to see the 1500 animals and creatures, of which there are a whopping 140 species.
Easter is a particularly fun time for the centre’s 60 staff, when, in Abigail’s words, everything starts ‘popping out.’ “Chicks, bunnies, lambs - we all look forward to the spring and we organise lots of activities for the Easter holidays to give the children lots of chance to see all of our lovely animals,” says the 25-year-old, who has been working at the centre for four years.
“We have egg hunts and Easter-themed activities and bird shows, it’s going to be a fantastic few days.”
Once the chicks have been safely returned, Abigail leads us on to meet another of her favourite springtime animals - Butters the bunny.
“Butters is a Netherland Dwarf,” Abigail tells Imogen and I.
“He’s about 12 weeks old and very sweet. He was absolutely tiny when he came to us; we have both him and his girlfriend Panda and hopefully they’ll make some more little Netherland Dwarfs together.”
Butters is fluffy and cuddly - and cute enough to adorn any Easter card. The next animal on our Easter walkabout is just the opposite. Imogen isn’t too sure what to make of Smartie the tortoise when she first claps eyes on him and I can understand why, he looks a bit like a giant rock you’d find in the garden - until he starts moving. Then she starts smiling.
“Smartie is 19-years-old and he’s easily the biggest of our tortoises,” Abigail tells us.
“We have baby ones that are just the size of a teacup.”
And that’s exactly what surprises me most about the Butterfly House, the sheer variety of animals on show. When owner Bob Ellis bought the land 20 years ago, he dreamed of opening his very own Butterfly House, and that’s exactly what he did. But once the Butterfly House was built, Bob and his family - who still own the centre today - began to expand, quite organically, into other types of animal.
“We have parrots, birds of prey, lemurs, meerkats, otters, chipmunks, rabbits, snakes, spiders, iguanas, swans, skunks - you name it!” smiles Abigail.
“Bob’s daughter, now in her thirties, works here and she can still remember riding her bike around these grounds when the Butterfly House was first being built and was just a concrete mound.
“We’re always expanding, in the last two years we’ve gone from four acres to eight and we have plans for so many other things.
“The Tropical Butterfly House is special because it’s truly a family-run business. Bob is absolutely excellent and his enthusiasm rubs off oh his staff - everyone who works here has so much passion and loyalty, it makes this a wonderful place to spend your days.”
After saying goodbye to Smartie, Abigail leads us on to the ringtailed lemurs, which she tells us will play a big role in the forthcoming Easter celebrations.
“We have some amazing Madagascan species at the centre, including ring-tailed and red ruffed lemurs, so this Easter we decided to celebrate all things Madagascan,” she reveals.
“We’re raising funds for the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group which monitor Lemurs in the wild and assist with breeding programmes, as Lemurs are sadly a critically endangered species. The funds we donate are vital to helping with conservation efforts.”
The lemurs are cheeky and full of fun and, as they bound on to our heads and shoulders, we can’t help but laugh. It’s wonderful to be able to see animals so up close and personal, happy and having fun in their own environments. I already know the pictures will be the highlights of family photo albums for years to come.
“That’s what it’s all about,” confirms Abigail happily.
“We’re here to make people happy and it’s a job we seem to be doing well.”
Coming this Easter:
Mad About Madagascar is coming to the Tropical Butterfly House this Easter, with daily Lemur Walkthrough Encounters and pantomime-style bird and animal displays.
There will be Easter Egg Hunts on Easter Sunday and Monday, as well as an Easter Afternoon Tea in the Butterfly Cafe.
“Every day is different at the Tropical Butterfly House,” says Head Keeper Abigail.
“We spend two hours feeding and cleaning out all the animals before the public arrives and then it’s a crazy day of playing, medical checks and training, with the odd birth or escape thrown in, so it’s always good fun!”
Visit Butterfly House for more details.