The Little Alabama Zoo That Could

Just outside a small town in Alabama, there’s a little zoo that I fell in love with. A little zoo that you don’t have long to see in it’s original location before it moves to a new home.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo started as an animal park in 1989, but it was in 2004 that it became known around the world when Hurricane Ivan led to the emergency evacuation of 270 animals.Zoo director Patti Hall only had 28 volunteers and 36 hours to get all of the animals out of the zoo, and to higher ground at Patti’s home.

The operation, the effort it took to rebuild the zoo, and the drama over missing 12 foot long alligator, Chucky, (who was fortunately found soon after) led to international headlines, and to an Animal Planet special “The Little Zoo That Could”.

As this Alabama zoo is in a low-lying area, every major storm poses another problem for the animals and their keepers, so the time has come to move to another location.

Patti and her team are currently working to raise enough money to complete what they call the “world’s first environmentally sustainable zoo”, and plan to move in later in 2013.

While I can’t wait for them to safely settle into their new home, I was also glad I was able to visit the original Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, and loved having the chance to be shown around by Patti herself.

An inspiring woman with an obvious love for her animals, Patti talked me through the history of the zoo, and introduced me to her creatures, big and small.

The zoo has lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) and all sorts of other creatures from monkeys to macaws.

Tiger fans are in for a real treat, as this is the only zoo in the United States to have Bengals with all four colour variations – the standard orange and black, the white with black stripes, the golden tabby, and the snow white with faint gold stripes.

And if that’s not enough, you may also get the chance to play with a tiger cub as Patti and her team help to hand raise the cubs for the Marcan Tiger Preserve. When the cubs are very small, children are allowed in to play with them; as they get bigger only adults are allowed into the pen as they can be a bit boisterous and have very sharp claws and teeth.

I was thrilled to get to spend some time with Serena, their latest Snowy Bengal Tiger on her last weekend at the zoo. She was now getting too big to play with the public and within days would be collected by Dr Marcan to be taken on to her next home.

I can say from experience those claws are very sharp… when I gave her a bottle she used them to hold onto my arm and I was left with some tiger stripes of my own.

Sure, it hurt a little, but not enough to want to interrupt her feeding and the wonderful experience of having a tiger cub cuddle. I was actually sad when the scratches faded as looking at them made me smile.

As it’s up to Mother Nature to decide when the next tiger cub will be there, it’s best to check ahead if this is something you’d like to do. Tiger encounters cost $25 for children and $50 for adults, as well as the regular zoo admission, and that money helps build the new home for the animals.

In spring there’s also a chance to hang out in the Lemur Playhouse and have Lemurs climb all over you for $10 with price of admission, and for just $1, children can step into Babyland and cuddle lambs, bunnies, goats and other baby animals.

To hear more about the zoo and see video of the beautiful animals and their evacuation, you can check out the video on the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s website. Then make sure to swing by and see them the next time you’re in the Deep South, either in their original or exciting new home.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day

It is open from 9am to 4pm, with last guest entrance at 3.30pm.

Admission is $10 for adults (13 to 54), $8 for seniors (55+), $7 for children (3 to 12) and free for children 2 and under.

Heading to Alabama? You may also want to check out:

Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of Alabama Tourism. All opinions and thoughts remain her own.

About the Author

As a journalist who loves to travel and is fond of a chat I'm oh so happy when I'm sharing travel tales and tips through my blog and on my weekly travel segment on Sydney Radio 2UE. When I'm not travelling or writing about it I can be found out and about with friends, curled up at home with a good book or watching an addictive tv show promising I'll stop after one more episode. Amanda on Google +

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  1. Aww how gorgeous! What an experience too hand feeding a little Bengal (you’re brave-I patted a leopard and I was shaking the entire time!). I love capuchin monkeys too!

    • Cheeky monkeys! The baby bengal was gorgeous, and I got to meet the adult ones too…. put my hands up against the wire fence and they came over and rubbed against them. I was sorely tempted to post about a hundred tiger photos but had to resist!

  2. What a great story! And love it that Patti is in Alabama. I would love to have fed the baby bengal… I’d probably be allergic though and my tiger stripes would swell (a couple of sneezes would be okay though.) Will definitely visit if I’m ever in Alabama!

    • Isn’t Patti great? And her beautiful animals…. I reckon you’d love feeding a baby bengal… maybe a few allergy tablets before hand may help? Even if that doesn’t work, it’s worth a few sneezes!

  3. Great success story Amanda! I’ve never heard of that zoo, but I don’t live too far away. Very cool opportunity you had to play with the tiger cub also, a truly unique experience.

    • Thanks! You should definitely head on down and see them if you don’t live too far away. Of course, the new zoo will be amazing, but it’s so good to see it in its original space. Road trip!

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