By Lauren Deal
Macon Community News
Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary is located on 250 rolling acres of open fields and hardwood forest at 712 L G Griffin Road in Locust Grove, Georgia. They are open on Tuesday through Saturday, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, with individual walking tours of the animal habitats available from 12:00 noon until 3:00 PM. The facility offers a wide variety of activities for families, schools, scout groups, and others who are interested in animal conservation and nature.
For families who wish to visit, Noah’s Ark is free, although they are grateful for donations of money and other necessary items. If you’re interested in making donations of things, they are featured on their website on their wishlist. Donations help them to sustain their daily operations.
To feed, house, and care for the needs of the animals living at Noah’s Ark, it costs $33,000 a month, all of which comes from private donations because the facility does not receive federal or state funding. Each year, Noah’s Ark gets more than 100,000 visitors who come to view the animals, attend events, and participate in educational programming.
Despite living in Middle Georgia for well over a decade now, I have never been to Noah’s Ark, and even more disappointing, I’ve never taken my children! The hours of operation have always been difficult to fit into our typical weekend schedule, primarily due to the three-hour animal viewing window.
In their broad grassy fields and under a thick, green-leafed canopy, more than 1,500 animals are sheltered. These animals represent more than 100 different species, including exotic cats, bears, domesticated livestock, exotic and wild birds, foxes and wolves, primates, reptiles, and small mammals.
The animals at Noah’s Ark have been rescued, donated, or surrendered from well-intentioned private owners who could not care for them, from failing zoos that couldn’t afford to feed them, from roadside circuses that mistreated them, and from research facilities where the animals were no longer needed. Some of the animals were removed from illegal ownership by people who had neither the facilities nor the good sense to take care of them properly. Many of the animals suffered abuse.
Before visiting Noah’s Ark for the first time, I strongly recommend that you sit down and go to their website, www.noahs-ark.org. Visit the “Animals of the Ark” tab, and you will be rewarded with high-quality, professional photographs of many of the animals who live at Noah’s Ark. Click on their pictures, and you can learn the animal’s name and story.
One of the most intriguing groups of animals at Noah’s Ark is named BLT, which stands for bear, lion, and tiger. “Baloo,” the American black bear, “Leo,” the African tiger, and “Shere Khan,” the Bengal tiger were discovered during the 2001 raid of the home of a drug dealer in Atlanta and rescued by the Department of Natural Resources, who delivered the sickly, starving trio to Noah’s Ark. They were cubs at the time. Baloo had a harness attached so tight, his skin had grown around it, and he had to have surgery to remove it and treat his infected skin. The “brothers” faced such trauma together that they bonded as “brothers” despite their apparent differences. Leo and Shere Khan cried piteously while Baloo was separated from them in surgery—and they have been kept together ever since. Leo passed away in recent years, but Baloo and Shere Khan are living out their old age side by side at Noah’s Ark.
Although BLT have the most horrific story of abuse, they are not the only animals living at the Ark who have been mistreated. Bengal tigers Shelia and Suki were given to Noah’s Ark by the owners of a small, traveling circus. The two tigers had been caged in deplorable conditions, and when they were rescued, Shelia was so frightened, she sat hours in her cage before finally exiting into her new natural habitat. She suffered a permanent limp from her life as a show cat. Like BLT, Shelia, and Suki bonded through their stressful lives. The two of them share a habitat, and although there are multiple dens in their territory, they prefer to share one, sleeping back to back for comfort and warmth.
Grace is a wolf-dog hybrid, which is illegal to own in Georgia. She was found behind a subdivision in Henry County and caught by animal control after a local woman pleaded with them for help to capture and save Grace. She weighed only 52 pounds when she was rescued, and a thick logging chain was wrapped around her neck, most likely by an owner whose mistreatment she escaped. She was starving and dehydrated to the point that she was in kidney failure when she was brought to Noah’s Ark, and she was infested with fleas, ticks, and worms. Through medical intervention and gentle care, Grace was saved. Her kidney function is still monitored every three months because she will never regain normal functioning. Grace is still very frightened of people, and she tends to hide in her den during visitation hours.
When you read the stories of these animals, you will understand why Noah’s Ark only allows visitors to view the animal enclosures for three hours a day. Many of the animals have suffered so much, and it is out of respect for them that Noah’s Ark limits their human interactions.
Fortunately, Noah’s Ark provides beautiful spaces for humans to interact with each other! They have a lovely playground area which is open from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. They also have many picnic tables, benches, gazebos, tall trees, and open grassy fields where visitors can enjoy a picnic, play tag, or sit and enjoy the peace. When we visited, a concession trailer was selling hotdogs, popcorn, and other treats, and a tent was set up to sell shaved ice treats. Check before you make your trip to be sure that on-site concessions are available if you’re planning to purchase food.
There are smaller animal enclosures near the visitor’s center and playground. In front of the visitor’s center, there is a tortoise habitat with large tortoises walking, digging, and bumping playfully into each other. Behind the visitor’s center, there is a small primate habitat and a parrot enclosure. Each of these areas has benches where you can sit and watch the animals while waiting for the more extensive animal habitat to open across the parking lot.
Peacocks, ducks, and other birds roam free around the property, including near the visitor’s center and picnic tables.
In Middle Georgia, pine trees seem to dominate the woodlands. Locust Grove is fortunate to have a large number of tall, sturdy deciduous trees that form a lovely canopy in the spring and summer months. The foliage keeps the heat to a tolerable intensity even in the summer. In fall, I am sure visitors see stunning colors as the leaves change. Here and there, broad, flat boulders offer children a chance to climb and explore. Benches punctuate the path.
The animal habitats are inventive, combining natural elements with human-made structures that mimic the environment where these animals genuinely belong. There are dens, caves, hammocks, pads, and even more animal homes, and many of them are made from reclaimed and recycled objects. Many of the animals also have their own “toys” to play with. Everywhere you turn, there is something to look at.
Plan three full hours to stroll through the woods and visit all of the animals. Noah’s Ark is so peaceful and relaxing, and I felt refreshed by the natural environment after our quick hour-long exploration. The paths are concrete, and somewhat uneven (I don’t recommend allowing your children to run through them), but I saw numerous wheelchairs and strollers being pushed without difficulty.
In addition to the self-guided walking tour, Noah’s Ark offers several wildlife encounter opportunities for a fee. The WOW (Walk On the Wild side) Tour is a one and a half-hour, three-mile walking tour for groups of two to 10 people with a professional guide who will teach you all about the animals living at Noah’s Ark. The tour costs $75 per person, and it is age-restricted and requires that participants be in good physical health. This tour provides you an in-depth educational experience and takes you closer to the animals.
The Big Cat Feeding Tour is approximately an hour and a half to two-hour educational experience where participants get to accompany the animal specialists and watch up close as they feed the big cats at Noah’s Ark. The Big Cat Feeding Tour is only offered in the summer months, which means that August is your last opportunity to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The cost is $150 per person, for groups of a minimum of two people and a maximum of 10 people, with age and physical ability restrictions.
Finally, Noah’s Ark offers the Keeper for the Day experience. Only one person at a time may participate in this unique opportunity. From 10:00 AM until 3:00 PM, the Keeper for the Day accompanies a Noah’s Ark animal keeper throughout the day for a behind-the-scenes look at the work that goes into caring for all of the animals at Noah’s Ark. This fantastic program is limited to adults, who must be in good physical health, capable of lifting and walking many miles. Participants will help the animal keeper perform daily tasks and enjoy a one-on-one lunch and conversation about life at Noah’s Ark. The program costs $500.00, and it includes a t-shirt and photographs of the participant throughout the day.
Noah’s Ark also welcomes school groups, church groups, scouts, and other youth and civic organizations to enjoy an educational experience.
Our family enjoyed everything that we were able to do and see at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary. It’s absolutely worth the drive. Take the time to learn about the animals before you go, and you will not be disappointed.
Noah’s Ark is doing incredible conservation and education work. Their website provides complete details about visiting the park, scheduling special programming, and ways to donate and support their efforts. Visit www.noahs-ark.org for more information.
Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary is located at 712 L G Griffin Road in Locust Grove, Georgia. You can call them at (770)957-0888 with questions and to confirm that they are open, especially if bad weather is looming.