The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge (ECWR) Zoological Park is not your average zoo. It’s not very large, it’s not well known, and the collection of animals there are not postcard perfect; but rest assured, the zoo is worth the drive.
Thirteen miles north of Destin, and down a little dirt road, you will find the most unassuming zoo in the area. Once called the Sasquatch Zoo, the park was owned by a local Crestview family for 20 years before being placed in the care of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge in 2013.
Today, the zoo is home to more than 130 rescue animals of 35 species, some saved from life-threatening brutality, some rescued from closing zoos around the country, and some just needing a temporary home in their journey to a larger habitat.
When my husband, Cristian, and I arrived at the zoo we weren’t quite sure what to expect. However, as two of only five patrons at the park, we felt that the park was ours for exploring.
In the first enclosure we approached we were excited to find a very friendly Wallaby named Elliot. Elliot made quick friends with Cristian, offering a kiss on the cheek as well as his soft fur for petting. As we walked to the next enclosure, Elliot hopped along his fence beside us until we moved out of range.
I was a bit surprised to find two large turkeys and several peacocks and guinea fowl roaming freely throughout the zoo. The turkeys also took turns following us around. Now, I am personally not that fond of birds, especially big birds with sharp feet, so when the turkeys came near me, puffed up their feathers and made a popping sound, I decided not to test my luck and stayed five feet away at all times.
Apart from the turkeys, I felt completely at ease at the zoo. The park was very easy to navigate as signs were posted at each intersection pointing out the direction of each animal exhibit. For a small zoo, the park had an astonishing assortment of interesting animals. My favorites were the sloth, the lemurs, baboons, tigers and bobcats.
Although the enclosures at the ECWR zoo are smaller than most zoos, each includes the animal’s name and species and has a sign listing the amount of money the refuge needs in order to expand the habitat. Currently the staff is working to construct a new otter habitat as well as a larger enclosure for the lemurs.
Don’t miss out on this amazing nonprofit zoo, it shouldn’t be a hidden gem much longer.
WANT TO GO?
The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park is located at 5262 Deer Springs Drive in Crestview. The zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Cost is $8 per adult, $5 for children age two to 10 and free to children under the age of two. Zoo treats are available to feed the goats, deer and llamas for $1 a bag. Keeper talks occur daily beginning at 10:30 a.m. but vary in topic depending on the keeper on duty for the day. For more information visit www.ecwrzoo.com, www.facebook.com/ECWRZoo or call 850-682-3949.