Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Little Zoo That Could--Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

Gulf Shores, AL     High:  64   Low:  44

You've heard the story about "The Little Engine That Could"...a popular but old children's story about the little engine that made it up the side and over the top of a mountain, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...."? This is the story of a little zoo in Gulf Shores.....The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, star of the 2006 Animal Planet series.....

Patti Hall, courtesy of Jon Hauge/Correspondent
The zoo is currently on 17 acres of low lying land near the beach which makes it vulnerable to hurricanes and their devastating damage. In 2004, when Hurricane Ivan threatened the Gulf Shores community, Patti Hall, the zoo director, and her small staff, evacuated all 270 animals from the zoo to her private home in Elberta, Alabama, about 20 miles away. Nothing like this had ever been attempted. She and her dedicated staff pulled off the first entire zoo off site evacuation of its kind--all 270 animals were caught, crated, caged and transported through a massive volunteer effort involving semis, pickups, and every available way possible to get the animals to safety for the time being. Safety was the driveway of Patti's Hurricane 5 proof family home and acreage, although most of the animals remained inside the trucks parked on the lawn, wagon wheel circle style to weather out the storm. After the storm came the tremendous rebuilding efforts to reopen the zoo, and they did.

Once again, in 2005,  with Hurricane Dennis advancing on the Gulf Coast, Patti Hall and her staff evacuated all the animals to her home and grounds in Elberta, AL and waited out the storm...The damages from hurricanes are usually extensive and exhaustive to the zoo's human and monetary resources. Ivan and Katrina were the worst for the zoo. This little zoo depends entirely on donations, memberships and contributions to stay open, no small feat in this day and age of competition for the public's supporting dollars.

Ten months later, after trying to rebuild from Hurricane Dennis, Hurricane Katrina hit.  The third time's the charm. Patti and her staff evacuated yet again, with a formal evacuation plan in place and it went much more smoothly. Unfortunately, they had to rebuild and repair from one of the country's worst hurricane storms, AGAIN.

That's a great story behind this hardworking lady, her staff and the zoo. For more information,  watch the Animal Planet videos "The Little Zoo That Could"..But here's one short link about this remarkable lady....

Sparky watched a little of the reality series on the zoo, the staff,  and the animals, and thought it was a wonderful story. Chuckie, the 15 foot alligator, was one animal that caught Sparky's interest--he had to be left behind during one of the hurricanes, and with the storm surge of about 12 feet, Chuckie floated right out of the zoo, but they found him later very close by. Chuckie USED to be in Gulf State Park. Apparently, Chuckie made lunch out of a couple of little dogs so he was removed from the park, or so the story goes. The park asked the zoo to take him and he's still there, the oldest zoo resident.

The love that Patti and her staff have for their small "animal planet" is so evident...It was a wonderful, heartwarming story. Sparky just had to go for a visit to the zoo to see how it was doing. What a great little zoo! Eight dollars for seniors 55 and older, 10.00 for adults, 5.00 for children. The animal count is now up to over 500, and for a small zoo, it's one of the cleanest, prettiest zoos Sparky has ever seen. The zoo is working on getting a new home a few miles inland so another evacuation will not have to happen. They hope to move the animals one last time some time in 2013.

The animals are well cared for, that is very evident. They have fresh food, fresh fruits and vegetables, lots and lots of toys to play with and the layout/landscaping of the zoo is just beautiful! They have several observation towers where you can get up and get a much better view looking OVER the fence.
You are closer to the fences in this little zoo than you are in major big city zoos.

There are a LOT of exotic birds here....
And lots of cute primates--all kinds of monkeys but no gorillas...If you want to get close and personal with some of the animals like the lemurs or baby tigers, you can for a charge....No, thank you! Sparky would rather just watch the these gopher tortoises waddling across the yard. The babies only grow an inch a year and these tortoises can live up to 100 years in captivity.
These little muntjac deer were cute....

And so was this little girl feeding a goat...
"Well, if you REALLY want the rest of my food, I guess you can have it!"
There was just a wonderful atmosphere about this little zoo...There weren't a lot of BIG animals, but there was plenty to see for families with children. It's hard to explain, but it was like being in a little jungle wonderland with all the palms, extensive landscaping, water and fountains...It has a wonderful, cozy atmosphere, you just knew that this is a place where the animals are loved and cared for as soon as you walked into the zoo. The animals all look wonderfully healthy with shiny coats and lots of things to play with..If it's possible for animals to seem happy, this place certainly conveyed that. Sparky thoroughly enjoyed "The Little Zoo That Could" today and highly recommends it if you love zoos, or have small grandchildren or children. They would love it!


  1. I remember seeing this zoo on Animal Planet when we had cable. It was funny I remember the story about them not being able to take the Alligator.
    When we are down in the area we need to check it out. Of course we love animals.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. My husband and my are looking into Gulf Shores vacation rentals for our family trip next year. I have been researching fun things for our children to do, and this zoo is perfect. It will be nice to share this story with them as we walk through it. :)