A Sabah pet cafe gives children a chance to get up-close with exotic animals

Pius (seated far right) with his team at The Noah. — Photos: The Noah

IT ALL started when lawyer Aaron Mark Pius, 31, got himself his first exotic pets – a chinchilla and a prairie dog – and set them up in a cosy hutch in his garage, at his home in Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam.

It wasn’t long before the charm of his adorable companions extended beyond the confines of his home.

Every evening, when Pius took his adorable furry friends out for some playtime, the sight of these cute animals never failed to captivate passers-by, especially children.

“They would intentionally walk past my house to catch a glimpse of my pets; and some kids would even guide their parents to jog or walk there so they could stop to get a closer look,” Pius fondly recalls, reflecting on the magnetic allure his unconventional furry companions had on the neighbourhood children.

It was then that Pius realised that he had to venture out of his garage (literally) and into a bigger space so more visitors would benefit.

“The joy and happiness my two exotic pets brought to those children, especially during the tough times of Covid-19 lockdowns back in 2020, inspired me to open a proper educational and entertainment centre where they can play and learn about these animals,” he says.

Fast forward to four years later, Pius has exceeded his initial mission. He moved back to his home state, Sabah, and resumed his practice while establishing two spaces that allow the public to interact with exotic animals – Mark Baba Pets Farm and Exotics, hailed as one of Sabah’s exotic pet farms, and The Noah, a pet cafe. Both are located in Donggongon, Penampang, a 30-minute drive from the state capital, Kota Kinabalu.

Visitors can get up-close with Coco and Melon, nine-month-old racoons from North America.Visitors can get up-close with Coco and Melon, nine-month-old racoons from North America.

Power of curiosity

With a strong belief in the power of curiosity in children as an opportunity for them to learn and grow, Pius says both establishments offer hands-on experiences for young visitors.

“Young children are naturally inquisitive and uninhibited by fear. Even when some of them express fear towards these exotic animals, most are driven more by curiosity,” says the self-confessed animal lover.

He says to make children comfortable with meeting these animals for the first time, the staff will introduce them to animals known for their gentle demeanour and calm behaviour. These animals include rabbits, chinchillas and ducks at Fluffy Paradise and Quack Quack, one of four sections in the cafe.

To ease any apprehension, Pius says, the staff then initiates interaction by allowing them to feed these adorable creatures. “It’s heartwarming to witness their sense of accomplishment when they bravely engage with the chinchillas. Many would excitedly exclaim, “Look, Mum and Dad, I did it!” he continues.

A successful introduction, Pius says, would bolster a child’s confidence so he or she would be eager to pet these animals and meet others.

He adds that interactions with animals can foster a sense of direct connection and understanding, on top of cultivating compassion in children. “We take pride in our staff as they serve as role models for compassionate and responsible animal care. By witnessing respectful treatment of our furry friends, children are taught by example, to emulate these behaviours in their own daily lives,” he adds.

He believes that through thoughtful approach and a nurturing environment, establishments like The Noah are able to instil a sense of wonder and compassion in children as they interact with animals.

This call duck is a resident at Fluffy Paradise and Quack Quack Area.This call duck is a resident at Fluffy Paradise and Quack Quack Area.

Connected to the natural world

At a time when most kids are often hooked on digital devices, Pius says interaction with animals gives kids a chance to understand and connect with the natural world. “Visiting spaces such as The Noah, petting zoos and farms gives children real-life learning opportunities through interaction, something they cannot get by learning about animals from their gadgets or TV shows,”

“They get to learn firsthand about these creatures, including their origins, different species and families, behaviour and natural habitats,” he adds.

On top of that, Pius says, the children also get to learn how to approach the animals respectfully and gently, which helps foster empathy and compassion.

“We believe in the positive impact of animal interaction on children’s emotional and psychological development. Research consistently shows that spending time with animals reduces stress and enhances emotional well-being,” he adds.

Pius says one of his regular visitors told him that a psychiatrist who had visited The Noah had recommended her patients to visit the cafe because “she has observed significant improvements in her patients’ well-being after they spend some time with animals.”

“It’s truly heartwarming to see the positive influence these interactions have on individuals – adults and kids – and this strengthens our commitment to providing this experience to the public.”

Pius prioritises the welfare and health of his pets and residents at The Noah. While his team oversees the daily care and well-being of the animals, he also engages a veterinarian who does house calls to ensure the optimal health of the animals.

“We conduct general check-up for all our animals at least twice or thrice a year,” he concludes.

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