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TNT Exotics opens to public

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TNT Exotics co-owner Twanna Simpson bottlefeeds a baby deer, Bouncer. Bouncer is the zoo's only baby deer. Simpson and her husband opened TNT Exotics because they want to provide an affordable way for kids to experience animals.
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Ayden Runnebohm, 10, pets TNT Exotics’ owl monkey, Adira. Adira sits on TNT Exotics owner Ty Simpson’s shoulders, and kept tryng to crawl into his shirt. Simpson said Adira gets nervous when a lot of people are around and so she tries to hide.
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Madison Miller rides the tortoise, Speedy, while her sister, Olivia Miller, tries to pet it. The tortoise is one of 24 different species featured at TNT Exotics, a zoo that opened on Sunday.
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Ayden Runnebohm pets Ty Simpson’s chocolate skunk, Lucy, while Runnebohm’s grandpa, Mark Kennedy, asks questions about the animal.

By HANNAH GUNNELL - hgunnell@shelbynews.com

Ty and Twanna Simpson have exotic animals in their backyard.

The Simpsons bought the property at 3840 State Road 9 in 2003, built their house on the property in 2006, and opened TNT Exotics, a zoo, on Sunday.

“Our whole reason for doing it, is in Shelbyville, unfortunately, if you don’t play baseball or football or soccer, there’s not much else to do, and a lot of these kids, I mean, they’re not going to see an alligator if they go to the Indianapolis Zoo,” Twanna said.

Attendees got to see animals such as goats, deer, macaws, arctic foxes, tortoises and cinnamon racoons.

TNT Exotic’s location has been an exotic animal location since long before the Simpsons bought it. The previous owner kept different animals on the property.

The Simpsons decided to open the property to the public because people were stopping by to look at the animals anyway.

“People called us all the time, ‘Can we bring our kids out? Can we stop by?” Twanna said. “I had people pull in the driveway, get out and knock on our door because they’d see the emu out front. ‘Do you have other animals? Can we see them?’ If they had kids, we never said no.”

Twanna said the animals belong to Luke Schonfeld and his business, Barnyard Party Pals. Twanna said she met him when she worked at Orscheln Farm and Home, and Schonfeld would buy feed from her.

“He just kind of grew on us,” she said. “Luke just kind of showed up.”

“Luke is one of the few people that is allowed in all my enclosures to take care of all my animals,” Ty said. “You know that one person you let take care of your dog, but not everybody? That’s Luke.”

Twanna said Schonfeld shared his animals with her because he wanted more animals than his parents would let him have, and he told her two zoos wouldn’t last in Shelbyville.

TNT Exotics is geared toward kids, Twanna said.

“I want it to where the normal, average family can afford to take their kids,” Twanna said. “We started out small, we don’t have a lot of animals. We have a lot of room for growth, we have a lot of plans for a lot of different animals, and I want kids to be able to see these things, to experience some of this stuff.”

Twanna said that her zoo is open for field trips and students can work there for volunteer hours.

“Kids can see this [points to emu] in a book,” Ty said. “But if they walk out there with a cup of feed and they feed that, they’ll remember that forever.”

Ayden Runnebohm, 10, visited TNT Exotics because he was looking for something to do. He said the owl monkey is his favorite animal to see because it’s soft and cute. He also wanted to see the alligator.

“I’ve never saw one before, so I just thought it’d be cool to see one,” he said.

“It’s all about kids,” Ty said. “That’s the whole reason you mess with animals. It’s all about kids.”

In addition to kid-friendly, Ty said the zoo is also handicap accessible “as much as it can be.” They have a golf cart to take people down the zoo’s hill, and the back patio has a ramp up to it.

Tickets for TNT Exotics are $10, according to its website. TNT Exotics is closed on Monday and Tuesday, and open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

TNT Exotics is not the Simpsons' first time handling animals. They used to own The Pet Emporium, a pet store, on East Mechanic Street, from 1993-1998.

“We went and looked at what at the time, was a compton dairy store on east mechanic street,” she said. “We pulled up in front of it and I’m like ‘Why are we here? This is a store, why are we here?’ He said ‘let’s just look at it and be open minded.’ So we went in, and they had an apartment hooked onto the side of it, and you went through the apartment, you could get into the back of the store. I said ‘Why do we need a store?’ and he said, ‘Oh, because we’re gonna buy this and we’re gonna open a pet store.’”

Twanna’s love for exotic animals began in 1994, when Ty brought home a bobcat.

“So then we got into the exotic animals because he went to a sale with a friend of ours,” she said. “And so he was in Pennsylvania and he called me and he said, ‘Hey, babe, we’re on our way home.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, okay, did you have fun?’ He was like ‘Yeah I had fun. By the way I bought a bobcat, I love you, goodbye.’ So I had six hours to stew over it or accept it. So he brought it home and I was in love. I was just suckered from there.”