Downtown Crowd

A Walk on the Wild Side

sloth thing

It’s time for a walk on the wild side, and, no, we’re not talking about the Lou Reed song. We’re talking about finding your inner lion, tiger, or bear at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, located presently on 7.5 acres of land that over 500 animals have called home since 1989. For the summer, you can look forward to Zoo Camp for kids, daily keeper talks and shows, as well as encounters with the animals that include plenty of play and cuddle time.

Since the zoo is located so close to the water, hurricanes and tropical storms have always posed a threat. For this reason, the zoo has been trying to relocate further inland to a bigger facility.

The zoo’s prayers were answered when Clyde Weir and his family donated a 25-acre site, which the zoo plans on moving into by the end of 2017. The zoo will bring all the wonderful attractions and animals from the old site to the new, although there will be some fresh additions, such as rides and restaurants. In this way, the zoo aspires to become so much more than a “zoo.”

The zoo design allows for many new event spaces through the park to accommodate everything and anything from family outings and picnics to setting the stage for wonderfully wild weddings, as well as hosting corporate and community events.

The majority of land work on the new zoo, which will be located on County Road 6 in North Gulf Shores, has been completed, including the building of a perimeter fence to enclose the 25 acres. The entrance has also been finished and a few exhibits have already been put together.

This opportunity for the zoo to provide larger and more natural habitats will enhance their animals’ daily lives and overall well-being by offering a design that takes into consideration each animal species and their specific needs from birth to old age. Moreover, it will allow the zoo keepers to work more efficiently and effectively for the animals in their care.

Also, the zoo ensures its animals are more than just a display: they serve as ambassadors for their wild relatives, including a number of species facing the threat of extinction.

This is why one of the most important parts of the zoo’s mission is to provide guests with an educational experience as they explore the grounds, for inspiring visitors to make a difference and join their efforts in conserving our natural world and the beautiful animals we share with it.

The zoo’s popularity peaked after its Animal Planet series called The Little Zoo That Could aired in 2005. The show followed the zoo’s trials and tribulations during their efforts to reopen after being battered by three major hurricanes in 2004 and 2005: Hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina. The series earned the zoo national recognition—making it a hotspot for travelers and vacationers alike.

People from around the world sent in encouraging letters, contacted the zoo with media requests, and gifted generous donations to help set the course for the zoo’s future and ensure its longevity. Today, the zoo averages a total of 100,000 annual visitors.

“The community embraced us with open arms and came to our aid, which enabled us to keep the zoo going and growing even during our darkest days,” said Patti Hall, director of Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. “It really does take ‘a village’ to raise a zoo and it takes continuing support on every level to keep us going.”

Free educational programs and presentations are also offered weekly on zoo grounds. However, the zoo is always interested in outreach programs that extend beyond the boundaries of its facility. So, if you are looking for a unique presentation for your next event, consider one of the zoo’s programs.

A popular program is the annual summer Zoo Camp, which features a full day at the zoo with licensed teachers, volunteers and other campers. Elementary-age kids get to interact with animals, play age-specific games, work on crafts and enjoy some hands-on education with some cool critters.

The zoo even has an active presence on YouTube through it’s aptly named channel “Zoo Tube.” This offers you the chance to get to know some of the animal stars before you make the trip out to the facility. Get introduced to new additions like the interesting (and cute) feline named Mystic, who is a young African Serval. Or, simply be entertained by Pumpkin the parrot singing her heart out to “Let it Go,” and prepare for the wave of warm and fuzzies as you watch some sleepy sloth clips—guaranteed to rid you of the Monday blues.

Also, the zoo offers several hands-on activities with the animals called encounters. If you want VIP access to a furry friend, you can sign up to spend time with kangaroos, lemurs, and sloths, as well as several scaly friends in the reptile garden. The cost is only an additional $10 for animal encounters, after you have paid for admission to the zoo.

As a nonprofit 501(c3) organization operated by the Zoo Foundation, Inc., the zoo relies on admission fees, memberships and contributions for funding. You can choose to help the zoo move to its new home by either making a tax-deductible donation, adopting a zoo animal, and/or taking your family and friends out to the zoo for a visit!

Or, if you’re looking to get more involved in the zoo’s cause, consider donning the halo of a “Zoo Angel.” Every week, “zoo angels” visit the site to offer help through volunteering during tropical storms and freeze, or through either cash or equipment donations.

“The zoo is a magical place, but it takes a lot of hard work to keep a 27 year-old facility like ours looking and feeling this way,” said Patti Hall. “Our motto, ‘the animals come first,’ is reflected in the work my staff does every day, the way they interact with our animals and the customer service they provide to our visitors is astonishing.”