Who knew that Alabama is so amazing?! Today at 10:30 AM, I, along with two friends, had a reservation to pet baby tigers at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, AL. We crossed into Alabama from Florida and followed the GPS directions – but when it said “you will arrive in four minutes”, we started to become concerned due to the un-zoo-like surroundings and the lack of any signs indicating a zoo could be in the area. However, embedded within the strip-mall atmosphere we found a small sign “Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo – The Little Zoo That Could” and we turned in to find a small building and a few cars parked in front. We laughed and wondered what we got ourselves into, but upon entering, we realized that the zoo is an amazing place!
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo – home to more than 290 animals – opened in June 1989 as Zooland Animal Park on 17 acres of land. This year in honor of Earth Day, the zoo officially announced that they will become the “world’s first environmentally sustainable zoo built from the ground up!” They plan to move to a new Green facility opening in Spring 2012. I love it!
The two Snowy White Bengal Tiger cubs (Tibet and Shiva) recently arrived from the Marcan Tiger Preserve. We spent thirty minutes cuddling with them!! It was incredible!
The tiger is the largest of the big cats and is native to eastern and southern Asia. They can weigh up to 660 pounds and have canines up to 4 inches long. The largest tiger is the Siberian tiger and the most numerous is the Bengal tiger.
India is home to the world’s largest population of tigers in the wild. According to the World Wildlife Fund, of the 3,500 tigers around the world, 1,400 are found in India. Project Tiger, has been underway since 1973, establishing over 25 tiger reserves and has been credited with significantly increasing the number of wild Bengal tigers. However, in recent years, the population has been rapidly declining due to poaching. In 2008 National Geographic published “India’s wild tiger population has dropped from nearly 3,600 five years ago to an estimated 1,411, the Indian government announced this week, along with a plan to create eight new tiger reserves.” In January, I visited the Sunderban Tiger Reserve in West Bengal and did not see any tigers in the wild during my visit.
A friend of mine works with the Sunderban Tiger Project in Bangladesh. This project is a Bangladesh Forest Department initiative that started in 2005. The project was initially research focused and now using the research, the project is evolving into conservation awareness. I hope to visit the Bangladeshi reserve this year! 🙂
While reading about tigers, I learned that several people own big cats as pets in the US. Wikipedia says that “the Association of Zoos and Aquariums estimates that up to 12,000 tigers are being kept as private pets in the US, significantly more than the world’s entire wild population.” I have not been able to find the reference but in 2003 National Geographic stated that “As many as 15,000 exotic big cats may be living in neighborhoods and roadside zoos in the United States. In fact, the country may have more pet tigers than there are estimated to be remaining in their wild habitats in Asia, according to research done for the National Geographic Ultimate Explorer television documentary America’s Big Cats in Crisis.” What? Why don’t I have any friends with tigers? Apparently only nineteen states have banned private ownership of tigers, fifteen require a license, and sixteen states have no regulations at all. In general, it is not a good idea to have a pet tiger – since they do grow up :)…but they are super cute when they are babies!
Happy Orange Suggestion: Absolutely hug a baby tiger! Absolutely hug a baby kangaroo!