In our travels, we’ve visited quite a few zoos. Large zoos, small zoos. Zoos that specialize in endangered animals, and zoos that have all the usual suspects. But, we’ve never seen anything like the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
After hearing about our animal loving kids, friends at Gulf Shores Orange Beach Tourism arranged a tour of the small, unassuming zoo for our family on our recent trip to the area. We were excited, but wondered how this zoo could be any different from any of the others we have visit. Those thoughts vanished soon after our arrival.
I could tell this zoo was going to be different from the moment we met the zoo director, Patti Hall, and general manager, Kim Dahlgren. I’ve never seen two people for passionate about what they do.
Kim greeted us in the gift shop and immediately started talking with my animal loving kids about the zoo and the animals there. Her excitement for the zoo and the animals got us all anxious to see more. Patti soon greeted us with a big smile and with a demeanor that felt like we had know her for years.
As Patti and Kim walked us through the zoo grounds and talked about the history of the zoo and the animals who lived there, their passion for the zoo shone through. It was apparent that these animals were more like family than merely caged animals to be managed.
These ladies talked about how they want the public to share their passion. They have come up with a unique way to spread their love of animals that truly sets the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo apart – animal encounters!
It means real animal encounters!
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo has a unique program that allows visitors to literally get up close and personal with several of their animals. For a short period of time, certain animals can be held, played with, and admired face to face.
We sat with young Red Ruffed and Black & White Lemurs in a screened enclosure while they jumped and played. These were incredibly soft, gentle, light animals with definite personalities.
Some just liked to run around you and some liked to stop for a short cuddle.
In the kangaroo enclosure, these little guys hopped around unfazed by my family. The kids pet them as they snacked and the didn’t mind at all.
We’ve held reptiles before, but never an alligator!
I have to say, of all the amazing animals that we got to touch and interact with, these guys were the most amazing. I mean, who gets to play with Bengal tigers?
My kids were love struck by these one month old little cuties. For a couple short months, Bengal tiger cubs are small and gentle enough for safe human contact. It was hard to believe that these adorable little cats will grow up to be 400 – 500 pounds!
The goal of the animal encounter program is not just to give people the opportunity to touch wild animals that they normally only see in an enclosure or cage. Sure, that’s the hook, but the real goal is to let people get to know the animals.
As we spent time with the animals, zoo keepers educated us about the animals and their status in the wild. Zoo director, Patti Hall, hopes that this interaction and personal experience will give people the drive to try and protect these endangered animals and their habitats.
The Story Of The Little Zoo That Could
You might have heard about the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo before if you watch the Animal Planet. The zoo was the subject of the show “The Little Zoo That Could”.
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo caught the eye of producers at Animal Planet after the zoo was battered by 3 major hurricanes in 2004 and 2005: Hurricane Ivan, Hurricane Dennis, and Hurricane Katrina. Before each of those storms, the zoo’s 270 inhabitants were evacuated and taken to director Patti Hall’s home. Seriously.
That makes the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo the only zoo in America to complete a full scale evacuation. Find out more in this video.
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