GULF BREEZE, Fla. (WKRG) — This week’s Destination Gulf Coast takes us to one of the wildest places right here at home… the Gulf Breeze Zoo, where you can get up close to some of the coolest animals around!
The Gulf Breeze Zoo has grown a lot in the more than 30 years since it opened. The 50-acre zoo has a 30-acre free roam preserve where you can see African deer, ostriches, rhinos, gorillas, orangutans, and Nile River hippos.
The safari train that takes zoo guests around the preserve makes a stop at the Kiboko River Station. Guests who purchase a hippo encounter can get off the train and feed the hippos, named Cleopatra and Kiboko.
“They are 34 years old and 27, so they are middle-aged,” said Zoo Director Jamie McMaster, adding, “we are hopeful they will mate and have a baby hippo!”
We noted that the hippos didn’t appear to chew the chunks of carrots and sweet potatoes that are tossed into their mouths. McMaster explained, “They have molars in the back of their mouths, and they wait until they have a decent amount of food in their mouth before they fully chew it.”
The zoo also offers a feeding encounter with sloths. Guests can feed them grapes from a long toothpick type stick. The animals have very soft fur and tiny, beautiful brown eyes.
“These guys are found in the rain forest in Central and South America,” said McMaster. “They like to sleep about 20 hours a day. A lot of people think sloths are slow, but when they want to, they can move quickly!”
The zoo has a broader mission than simply allowing people to get up close to exotic animals, says Susi Robichaux, Marketing Director for the zoo. “Our mission is to bring awareness to the plight of animals in the wild. Without zoos, many species would be gone completely. And there are some animals you can only see now in zoos. Next week is World Giraffe Day, so we are really trying to bring awareness to giraffes. There’s less than 97,00 left in the wild.”
A giraffe feeding encounter allows guests to feed lettuce to the graceful animals. The encounter is a huge hit with kids and adults.
The zoo also has two black bears, two lions and two tigers, along with various primates and birds. A portion of the zoo’s proceeds goes to help fund conservation efforts for endangered and threatened animals in the wild.
For more information on the Gulf Breeze Zoo, including hours, ticket prices and directions, go to their website here.