A bit wild: Asian animal cafes go from mere cats to meerkats - Weekend

A bit wild: Asian animal cafes go from mere cats to meerkats

BANGKOK — Cat cafes where customers sip lattes while petting resident kitties are just opening their doors around the US and Europe. But in Asia, where the first one opened more than a decade ago, the concept has moved well beyond felines.

BEYOND CATS. Guests play with a raccoon at Little Zoo Café in Bangkok, Thailand. In Asia, where the first cat cafe opened more than a decade ago, the concept has moved well beyond felines. At Little Zoo Cafe in Bangkok, meerkats, raccoons and the little foxes with the hugest, softest ears imaginable can be cuddled near plates of crepes and French fries. (AP PHOTO)
BEYOND CATS. Guests play with a raccoon at Little Zoo Café in Bangkok, Thailand. In Asia, where the first cat cafe opened more than a decade ago, the concept has moved well beyond felines. At Little Zoo Cafe in Bangkok, meerkats, raccoons and the little foxes with the hugest, softest ears imaginable can be cuddled near plates of crepes and French fries. (AP PHOTO)

At Tokyo’s Snake Center, visitors pay 1,100 yen (about $11) for a cup of coffee and a slithery friend to wind around their arm; a plate of curry bread snacks or a really big snake costs extra.

At We Are The Furballs (WTF) in Singapore, Mochi and her puppy pals yap at ankles and occupy guests’ laps for peaceful dognaps.

And at Little Zoo Cafe in Bangkok, meerkats, raccoons and little foxes with the softest ears imaginable can be cuddled near plates of crepes and French fries.

FRIENDLY SNAKE. A customer pets a snake at Tokyo’s Snake Center, in Tokyo. (AP PHOTO)
FRIENDLY SNAKE. A customer pets a snake at Tokyo’s Snake Center, in Tokyo. (AP PHOTO)

Some sell the animals, or offer them for adoption. Others invite customers to bring their pets, or just offer encounters with creatures — from penguins to hedgehogs.

“I wanted there to be a place where people can come learn about the animals,” said Wachiraporn Arampibulphol, who opened an exotic animal cafe in Bangkok a year ago after visiting an owl cafe in Tokyo.

Snuggling Jelly, a blond fox, Wachiraporn said she used to import chinchillas, meerkats and other exotic pets, but worried that owners bought them impulsively and then abused them or let them collapse and die in Thailand’s heat.

She said customers at her Little Zoo Cafe get a reality check when they’re so close to the animals; she’s only sold a half dozen this year.

“When you see pictures and photos of these animals, you see their cuteness,” she said. “But people don’t think about what the animal would smell like or how actually raising one would be.”

Indeed, a musky odor floated above two red foxes — Mocha and Cappuccino — as they boisterously wrestled and skittered around customers’ legs.

Nearby, Nuttida Chaloembun, 23, from Bangkok, watched a waitress grapple with Cracker, a 25-pound raccoon, who chattered and swatted her away with little hand-like paws.

“It’s fat and really adorable but it won’t let me touch it,” laughed Nuttida.

FOX AND MEERKAT. A visitor plays with a fennec fox and meerkat at Little Zoo Cafe in Bangkok. (AP PHOTO)
FOX AND MEERKAT. A visitor plays with a fennec fox and meerkat at Little Zoo Cafe in Bangkok. (AP PHOTO)

Shirley Chaifong came to the Little Zoo Cafe all the way from Malaysia after seeing photos of meerkats on Instagram. But it was the tail-wagging corgi, an uncommon breed in Asia, she fell for.

“It’s a great way to see the animals,” she said, her hands running through his fur.

The Cat Flower Cafe in Taipei, Taiwan, took credit as the first-ever cat cafe when it opened in 1998. The real boom began in 2005 in Japan, where few apartments allow pets. There are now more than 100 cat cafes listed in Japan, 50 in Tokyo alone. But new goat-, rabbit- and bird-themed eateries now offer competition. (AP)

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