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Nestled just miles from the Gulf waters, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo enjoys international fame thanks to a heart-warming story.
Big Fame for a Little Zoo
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s incredible struggle against three hurricanes in 14 months attracted the attention of Animal Planet as this battle with nature was the subject of a prime-time reality television series called “The Little Zoo That Could.”
The show—which was shot on location at the Gulf Shores, Ala. facility—featured zoo director Patti Hall and her staff as they evacuated the animals first for Hurricane Ivan, only then to repeat the entire process ten months later for Hurricane Dennis and finally about seven weeks later for Hurricane Katrina. The show profiled these evacuations and the staff’s efforts to rebuild and reopen the 17-acre facility.
The Big Move
In July 2006, Clyde Weir, the owner of Souvenir City, and his daughter, Andrea Weir Franklin, donated 25 acres of land to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo to relocate the zoo from its low-lying property in Gulf Shores. The new property, valued at several million dollars, is located on Oak Road East (County Road 6) in Gulf Shores approximately two miles north of the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge. The property is in a prime location on higher ground.
Clyde celebrated 50 years in business at the same location in 2006. The Weir family says, “Gulf Shores has certainly been good to us and in return we want to do something for the community.” Clyde and Andrea are avid animal lovers and expressed great concern for the well-being of the zoo animals in the face of so many devastating hurricanes. As their gift to the community, Clyde, Andrea and their families donated 25 acres to the zoo in order for it to relocate. The Weir gift will ensure the longevity of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo by providing it with a much safer location. Build-out of the new zoo is expected to begin in 2007.
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is constructing a new facility, which will be the first time in history that a zoo will be built from the ground up and will define every aspect of the term green. Not only will it become the ultimate in sustainability but also provide a new almost entirely “hurricane-proof” home to the 400 animals that currently live at the Gulf Shores location. The new zoo is striving for the highest recognition in environmental sustainability through Platinum LEED certification. Currently, the ground preparation work is being done for the entire park, and the following designs are being prepared:
- additional 15 acres
- rhino exhibit, giraffe, zebra and African hoof stock exhibit
- 5 pond waste water treatment area
- glass greenhouse for algae/coral production
- energy-efficient electric trains for patrons
For more information, see the press release
Up Close and Personal
From time to time, the zoo will have baby tigers on display and available for special encounters. These unique tigers are from the Marcan Tiger Preserve in Ponce De Leon, Fla., which is run by the foremost leader of Bengal Tiger breeding, Dr. Josip Marcan. For more information or to inquire if the zoo currently has baby tigers, please visit www.alabamagulfcoastzoo.com
Each year, nearly 200 children invade “The Little Zoo That Could” for the annual Zoo Camp, which is typically held the last week of June. Campers are divided into two groups. Preschool children (ages 3 to 5) enjoy half-day sessions while elementary school age children (ages 5 to 11) have full-day sessions. Zoo camp is conducted by licensed teachers and trained volunteers who help the children gather a better understanding and respect for the animal kingdom. In addition to meeting the animal caretakers and greeting a few animal residents, the children participate in age-specific games, arts and crafts projects and other zoo-related events. This camp features numerous hands-on education and fun activities.
Other annual events include a low-country boil, Boo at the Zoo and Sandy Claws.
About the Zoo
The zoo opened in June 1989 as Zooland Animal Park and was founded as a private enterprise by Joey Ward of Gulf Shores. In 1991, the Ward family created the Zoo Foundation, Inc., which is a non-profit corporation, and donated the 17 acres of prime real estate that makes up the zoo today. Three years later, the Ward family and the Erie Meyer Foundation graciously donated an additional 13 acres, which are still undeveloped. A Board of Directors governs the Zoo Foundation, Inc.
Approximately 300 animals reside at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, which relies solely on admissions, memberships and contributions to remain in business.
The zoo is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admits the last guest at 3:30. Admission is $10 for adults (ages 13-54), $8 for seniors (55+) and $7 for children (ages 3-12). Children 2 years of age and under are admitted free of charge. For more information, please call 251-968-5731 or visit www.alabamagulfcoastzoo.com
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