Named the “Little Zoo that Could” in a series of shows by Animal Planet for its efforts to protect its animals and rebuild following a hurricane, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is preparing to open in its new location in late 2019.

The zoo, which opened its doors in 1989, will cease operations at its existing location on Ala. Hwy. 59 on Sept. 30 in preparation for its move just a few miles north of the Intracoastal Waterway Canal bridge.

Already open at the new 25-acre location is the Safari Club Gulf Shores restaurant, which is receiving rave reviews from locals and visitors alike.

See: Top Gulf Shores Area Restaurants

It is the state’s first certified “Green Restaurant,” and features a full line of vegetarian and vegan options in addition to standard cuisine. The restaurant states that it proudly serves herbivores, omnivores and carnivores, and offers seating both indoors and outdoors.

The Green Restaurant certification is administered by the Green Restaurant Association and recognizes restaurants and food service companies for implementing green practices. Green restaurants celebrates environmental accomplishments in water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable durable goods and building materials, sustainable food, energy, reusables and environmentally preferable disposables, chemical and pollution reduction, and transparency and education.

The new Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo will be the first Zoological Association of America (ZAA)-accredited zoo in the United States to be built from the ground up in more than 20 years.

ZAA accreditation is a rigorous process that include a site inspection to confirm the applicant supports the mission, vision and goals of the organization. Facilities are graded in a variety of categories, including physical facility; husbandry, animal care practices, animal welfare and well-being; record-keeping and health care records; knowledge of animals by personnel; animal diet and nutrition; facility security; veterinary care; licensing and permits; safety plans and risk management; and adherence to the minimum guidelines in the ZAA Animal Care and Habitat Standards.

Applicants must also engage in one or more of the following: exhibits exotic and/or wild animals to the public and has an educational and conservation message; educational outreach programs using exotic and/or wild animals; and breeds exotic or wild animals for conservation purposes or supplying zoological facilities.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo today showcases more than 500 animals; 118 species; and 22 critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or near threatened species. Some of the animals were rescues after being orphaned, abandoned or abused. Others were unwanted for being too big or difficult to handle by their owners, or too old or sick to matter anymore.

Some of the animals were born at the zoo, joined the family as companions or were gifted to the zoo. “No matter their beginnings or their circumstances, they all have a loving and safe home at our little zoo,” according to the zoo’s website.

Families on a budget will appreciate that the cost of admission to the zoo is affordable. When you choose a Meyer vacation rental, you receive exclusive access to the Meyer Fun Pass, which offers the ability to reserve admission to the zoo as well as a variety of other fun activities. Families may also opt for a vacation rental from Meyer’s list of budget-friendly properties: condos and houses.