Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park to open in Crestview

Levi is a 13-year-old handsome resident at the zoo. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoos

Levi is a 13-year-old handsome lion, a resident at the zoo. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Zoo remains open while improvements being made

The folks at Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge (ECWR) have had their hands full lately as they prepare to take possession of the Sasquatch Zoo in Crestview. What will be named Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park, ECWR hopes to bring a brighter future for the 104 animals currently residing at the zoo.

Debbie Mattox and Bill Bitsche are the current owners.  In early 2012, the couple approached ECWR about purchasing the zoo as they prepare to retire. After long deliberations, the transfer will come to fruition hopefully by late spring 2013.

With a great bit of help from grant funding and volunteers, work is already in progress. Overgrown hedges and bushes have been cut back, fences replaced, animal enclosures are getting improvements and new habitats are being built.

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Llama and her young at the zoo. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Currently the zoo houses a variety of animals including a lion, black bear, wolves, foxes, ostriches, lemurs, bobcats and antelopes. The take over will also enable ECWR to move their existing educational wildlife to more spacious quarters. ECWR’s “ambassador” animals are rescued wildlife that cannot be released back into the wild. The ambassadors are part of ECWR’s outreach educational program and include a barred owl, screech owl, great horned owl, and opossum to name a few.

Other long term plans for the park include improved and more natural habitats for the animals with landscaping provided by the Okaloosa County Master Gardeners.

“Creating a more natural substrate could be life changing for these animals,” said Amanda Wilkerson, ECWR director.

ECWR is striving to get the zoo accredited as a AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) facility and hope to get SSP (Species Survival Plan) for the extirpated red wolf and the endangered Florida panther.

Fundraising is the works and ECWR plans on offering exhibit sponsorships. If you are interested in volunteering or donating to the efforts, call (850) 650-1880.

The zoo remains partially open while improvements are being made. Call ahead for group tours. To learn more about Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, click here.

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Side note:

ECWR still intends on pushing forward with their rehabilitation facility and education center on Okaloosa Island.

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