The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, also know as “The Little Zoo That Could” by fans around the world, is located in the resort community of Gulf Shores, just blocks from the beach. It opened in June 1989 as Zooland Animal Park and was founded as a private enterprise by local entrepreneur Joey Ward. In 1991, the Ward family created the Zoo Foundation, Inc., a non-profit corporation, and donated the 17 acres of prime real estate that makes up the zoo today. Three years later, the Ward family and its charitable arm, the Erie Meyer Foundation, donated an additional 13 acres, which are still undeveloped.
The zoo is home to more than 550 animals. Exhibits include: lions, tigers, bears, black leopards, monkeys, tropical birds, camels, two islands of Madagascar lemurs, a petting zoo, reptile house, aviary, and daily animal shows in the summer.
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo relies solely on admissions, memberships and contributions to remain in business. The local community and businesses have been generous in donating cash, building supplies and services in years past. Substantial ongoing funding through sponsorships, grants, and endowments from major corporations did not exist before 1998. These additional sources of revenue are now being actively pursued to ensure the zoo's longevity as it goes through another major transformation.
On Earth Day, April 21, 2011, the Zoo made an historic announcement that it will become “the world’s first environmentally sustainable “green” zoo built from the ground up.” This “Amazing Green Zoo” is scheduled to open in 2013 and will set the standard in animal and environmental education and entertainment. While larger and more technically sophisticated, it will retain that small-park charm that made the “Little Zoo” the star of the 2006 Animal Planet television series.
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is operated by The Zoo Foundation Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. A Board of Directors governs the Zoo Foundation, Inc. Steve Jones is the current Chairman of the Board. Patti Hall is the Zoo Director.