When you first walk into the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, you may be surprised to find that this isn't your typical animal sanctuary. Not only are staff members extremely connected to all of the resident creatures, they also help every visitor kindle a strong bond with the beautiful animals they come in contact with.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my

Go wild at Gulf Shores zooGulf Shores zoo, located adjacent to a nature preserve four miles north of Gulf Shores beaches, is home to more than 300 animals, including lions, tigers and bears, as well as several species of monkeys. If that isn't enough, you can see hundreds of reptiles and amphibians in the zoo's reptile house, and check out the colorful bird residents of the tropical aviaries, including toucans, parrots and peacocks.

A wonderful world of wildlife 

Gulf Shores' zoo is one of the area's most beloved attractions. Highlighting its struggles and successes following the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, "The Little Zoo That Could" was featured in a 13-episode Animal Planet series, now available in the zoo's gift shop as a four-disc DVD set.

Zoo officials have recently decided to become the world's first environmentally sustainable zoo built from the ground up, which proves that everyone at the facility takes animals and their well-being seriously. Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo 2.0 recently opened in its new 25-acre spot, giving visitors a view of the residents from wide paths, shaded picnic areas, rest stops and benches.

Up close and personal

In addition to the regular exhibits, the facility offers "encounter" areas, enabling you and your family to get close to some of the animals by petting them, cradling them in your arms, or allowing them to climb onto your shoulders.

In these encounter areas, you can get to know the wildlife of Australia by holding a young, napping kangaroo. And the Lemur Encounters are high-energy opportunities that bring plenty of smiles, giggles and laughs. Or, slow things down a bit by enjoying an encounter with a sloth.

Each encounter is in a safe, zookeeper-supervised environment appropriate for all ages. Be sure to have your camera ready!

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