GULF SHORES, Ala. (WKRG) — Change is never easy. “This zoo, I’ve been here over half my life and some of these animals are like my family,” says Rusty Gilbert who has been at the zoo since the beginning.
Three decades of memories, adventures all coming to an end this weekend at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. “I just love this place,” says curator Cyndi Johnson. “I loved the animals. I liked taking care of them. I started at rock bottom.”
Leaving all this behind is emotional, “Oh, it’s going to be hard to leave here,” at the same time, a new beginning. “A very exciting time,” says Zoo Director Joel Hamilton. “It’s an immense challenge but a very exciting time for the Gulf Coast Zoo.”
The animals, staff are like family. They have weathered storms, grabbed national acclaim. Through it all, former zoo director Patti Hall led the charge as a voice for the animals and the face of the zoo. “If it wasn’t for Patti Hall this place wouldn’t be here,” says Gilbert. When the last guest leaves Sunday, “Very traumatic for me,” says Johnson. “Patti said she would be the last person out and she would lock the door for the last time. She’s not here so I’m going to do it for her.”
Years in the making and full of starts and stops, “The Little Zoo that Could” will finally be “The Little Zoo that Grew” when it re-opens February 1st at its new location off County Road 6 in Gulf Shores.