Hug That Tiger, Cuddle That Kangaroo


Did you know tiger cubs don’t purr? But they do cuddle and play just like a typical house cat. And, you don’t have to watch from the other side of a fence or wall to find out.
At the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, you can have a hands-on encounter with several kinds of baby animals. Each spring, Zoo Director Patti Hall brings in tiger cubs, plus baby kangaroos and lemurs. Her Animal Encounters program puts visitors and babies face to face. You pay an upcharge from the regular admission for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. In return, the wild animals become accustomed to being handled. It’s a good relationship all around. When the creatures grow to a certain size – for tigers, it’s 25 pounds – they move on to other zoos for permanent residence.
Last year, Hall had two sets of tiger cubs, one white and the other yellow, for the interactions. Animal Encounters aren’t the only reason to stop by this old-timey zoo just five minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. Take your time walking around the shady paths and learning the stories behind the scenes. CNN nicknamed it “The Little Zoo That Could” because the menagerie made international headlines during hurricanes Ivan and Katrina when the property flooded. Hall was a quick thinker. She loaded all 270 animals onto trailers and drove them 15 miles inland to her own backyard to ride out the storms. Videos of her bears as they frolicked in her swimming pool captured hearts as far away as China and Russia.
Today, Hall wants to move the animals again. Because of the threat of floods and the growth of Gulf Shores, the zoo is developing 46 acres north of town. “We’d love to be there by the end of 2013,” she said. As a non-profit, she is accumulating donations to make the move. One thing is for sure: If she keeps putting these cute animals in people’s hands and hearts, she’ll get there soon. Visit the Alabama Gulf Zoo's website for more information.
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