Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo After School Adventures Program starts Sept. 14
By Fran Thompson
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shoress is kicking off its new School Adventures after school program with a three week session from September 14 – October 2.
The Zoo will extend operating hours until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission on those days will also include a free daily adventure program from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. The programs are all fun and educational.
Zoo admission is $19.95 for adults (ages 13-54), $16.95 for seniors 55 and up and military personnel, and $14.95 for children ages 3-12. Children 2 and under are admitted free. Prices do not include tax. The Zoo also offers yearly family memberships allowing unlimited visits as well as a 10 percent discount year-round to locals.
The School Adventures program will provide parents another outdoor option for their kids’ after school activities while also introducing children to the world of animals and exposing young minds to a fun, educational experience.
“The COVID crisis created many challenges for parents, students, and teachers. We hope our program will provide our community uplifting support as they navigate these difficult times,” said Joel Hamilton, the Zoo’s executive director.
The zoo opened in March, just prior to Alabama Gov. Ivey’s first Covid-19 quarantine executive orders.
The zoo is easily able to accommodate social distancing with more than 25-acres for patrons to roam.
Giraffe encounters, limited for a time to comply with Alabama’s Pandemic Response Executive Order, are again being offered, with Benjamin and Akayla available at 10 a.m .and 2 p.m. visits daily. The domestic animal barn is also open daily for guests to enjoy mingling with sheep, goats, pigs and other barnyard animals.
“We do require guests to wear masks while participating in the giraffe feedings,’’ Hamilton said. “We also only allow one family group at a time into the feeding area.’’
Additional zoo attractions such as the Soaring Eagle Zipline are open for business. The zipline offers views of the entire park as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Pleasure Island. Monkey Island, The Reptile House, The bird sanctuary and Lemur Island are other zoo draws.
“Come visit, learn a little about the animals, conservation, and the world around us,’’ Hamilton said.
The mission of the not-for-profit zoo is to create compelling experiences that connect people and communities with wildlife and inspire personal responsibility for the conservation of the natural world.
To further that mission, the zoo established its Sustainable Life Centre to highlight the idea of being stewards for the planet through demonstrations of animal conservation, rainwater harvesting, organic gardening and sustainable technologies.
Local business owners Clyde Weir and Andrea Weir Franklin, his daughter, donated 25 acres of prime property north of the Intracoastal Waterway (20499 Oak Road E.) to build the new zoo away from Gulf of Mexico storm surges.
The story of “The Little Zoo That Could” was perfectly documented in a still popular Animal Planet reality series about the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. The series – in 13 episodes – told the story about the Noah’s Ark type evacuation from downtown Gulf Shores to property owned by retired zoo director Patti Hall in Elberta before Hurricane Ivan took a direct hit on Hwy. 59 back in September of 2004.
With no other option, Hall and her staff of 39 moved 275 exotic animals to her family farm in Elberta. It was the first U.S. zoo to conduct a full-scale evacuation during a natural disaster. The hit series led to boom in visitors and vast media attention. (The zoo’s 12 ft. alligator, Chucky, escaped its pen area during Ivan’s storm surge, which was an international news story).
Hall and her staff also evacuated the zoo during Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina in 2005.
As the first ZAA-accredited U.S. built in the United States in more than 20 years, the zoo provides a spacious and modern haven for more than 300 animals, including 22 critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or near threatened species.
A private investment firm purchased $26.26 million in tax exempt bonds that funded the new facility on 25 acres off County Road 6 East.
The land, 4.3 miles north of its original location, was donated by the Weir family back in 2006.
The bond money was also used to purchase 71 acres adjacent to the property which will be used for expansion and additional parking.
The zoo has also secured a $1 million grant from the City of Gulf Shores to help with operational expenses while it transitioned across the Intracoastal Waterway.
The zoo’s residents include big cats, Eurasian Eagle owls, kookaburras and encounter animals such as kangaroos, reptiles, sloths, lemurs and anteaters.
Insects exhibits include one of the world’s most valuable collection of butterflys and moths that are part of the Dirk Beyer Butterfly Observation Outpost. There is also a special space for beehives.
The Safari Club Restaurant, located just outside the entrance to the zoo, is open for lunch and dinner daily, and brunch is available on weekends. There is also locations in the park to purchase food and drinks.
Pictured: Rani, the zoo’s beautiful standard bengal tiger, has a sassy, feisty personality and is very affectionate with her keepers; the zoo’s three spider monkeys include Katy, age 17, Toto, age 30, and Precious, who is 26; Tupari, a 16 week old common marmoset, enjoys a tasty hibiscus flower; giraffe encounters are offered twice daily at the zoo; One of the zoo’s pigs, Kevin Bacon, can be seen in the domestic animal barn daily.