Camels and buffaloes and goats, oh my! Exotic and domestic animals add a unique twist to Carolina Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway, now through Jan. 2, 2011 with a petting zoo, pony rides and a live nativity scene featuring camels.

Open nightly, Carolina Christmas is fun for the whole family as visitors can enjoy interacting with a wide variety of animals throughout the Christmas village. All of the animals are provided by Rockin’ A Ranch, owned and operated by Ivey and Gerald Almond of Midland, N.C.

Perhaps the most unique animals that are a part of the show are two camels, Stewie and Skippy. Stewie is a two-year-old dromedary (one-humped) camel that has been in the care of the Almonds since he was just a few months old. Skippy the baby camel, is also a dromedary camel and is just four months old. Both Stewie and Skippy are new additions to Carolina Christmas, and made their first appearance Tuesday night. Visitors can get a glimpse of these interesting animals along with cows, sheep, donkeys and goats in the live Nativity scene located in the Bethlehem-themed village.

In addition to the live Nativity scene, one of the most popular attractions for adults and children alike is the petting zoo located just outside of the South Pole Shoppes. The petting zoo contains a variety of domestic animals as well as a few exotic animals. Nearly all of the animals are raised on the Almonds’ 100-acre farm.

Some of the animals on display for visitors to enjoy include a Showgirl chicken, a rare fancy breed of chicken known for its unique feather orientation; a Flemish Giant, one of the largest domestic rabbits in the world; a white buffalo, a rare genetically pure breed of buffalo that mimics the looks of an albino buffalo without the pink eyes; a miniature Zebu, an uncommon type of Brahman cow that only stands 40 inches tall as well as turkeys, goats and yaks.

The Almonds have always been in the animal business with Gerald raising livestock for most of his life and Ivey growing up with a father as a veterinarian and graduating from N.C. State with a degree in agriculture. With their love for animals, the Almonds started their petting zoo business four years ago to educate adults and children about animals and their habits.

“It started out as a hobby and grew from there,” said Ivey Almond. “I saw a need for good clean healthy animals. I wanted to put together petting zoos so children could see the animals in a clean environment. I have children and adults that learn about animals when they come to the petting zoo, so with my education and [Gerald’s] experience it just came together.”

For the Almonds it’s not just their passion for animals, but it’s the reward of seeing how children and adults react to their petting zoo.

“I enjoy seeing the children squeal and laugh,” explained Ivey Almond. “We have treats visitors can buy to feed the animals and the kids just love it. It gets so loud in here you can’t even hear yourself think because everyone is having such a great time.”

Visitors to the petting zoo can feed the animals by purchasing a treat cup for just $1.

In addition to their petting zoo, Rockin’ A Ranch also offers pony rides for children visiting Carolina Christmas. The friendly Shetland ponies have a unique story of their own as many are rescue ponies.

“With the horse industry suffering in our economy right now we have people who can no longer afford to keep their animals, so they call us with gentle ponies to see if we are interested in using them in our children’s programs,” said Ivey Almond.

The Almonds have 15 ponies they use for the rides and rotate them daily to give them adequate time to rest. The ponies are also used for teaching purposes along with some of the other animals from the petting zoo.

“We do educational programs about farm animals,” explained Ivey Almond. “We go to schools, museums and state fairs where we teach people the origin of the animals, their natural habitats, favorite activities, as well as food and proper care for the animals.”

Carolina Christmas not only offers opportunities to see some rare and unique animals but visitors will also see one of the largest holiday light shows in the United States, featuring a spectacular 2.5-mile drive-through course with nearly 500 different L.E.D., or light emitting diode, light displays, carriage rides, a marshmallow roasting pit and themed areas for children with food, music, rides and photos with Santa.

Operating hours for Carolina Christmas are 6 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 2, 2011, rain or shine. Tickets are available online at www.visitcarolinachristmas.com or at the gate nightly during event hours for drive-up traffic. Admission is just $20 per passenger vehicle, with group and motorcoach packages available. 

Coupons for a $4 discount off admission can be found on select packages of Coca-Cola products at your Charlotte area grocer or get a $3 off coupon on receipts with select purchases at area Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse stores. A $2 off coupon is available in the Concord Mills Mall coupon book.

Families may also take advantage of The Speedway Club's holiday dinners and Carolina Christmas packages, which include a speedway-provided ride through the Carolina Christmas display. Individual meals start at just $20 per adult, and family-style meals are also available. For more information, call 1-800-455-FANS (3267) or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

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