Kevin Hils, Chehaw zoo director, recently told members of the Dougherty Rotary Club that Chehaw is the major regional zoo south of Atlanta, east of Birmingham and north of Jacksonville and Tampa.
ALBANY -- Speaking to members of the Dougherty County Rotary Club recently, zoo director Kevin Hils outlined some of the activities, plans and goals of the zoo at Chehaw Park.
Hils emphasized the quality of the zoo relative to the size of Albany and said that Chehaw is actually the major zoo attraction for people in a large geographic region.
"When you think about it, how far do you really have to go to find a zoo as good and as progressive as the one we have here?" Hils said. "To find a comparable Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo, you'd have to travel north to Atlanta, south to Jacksonville or Tampa, or west to Birmingham."
Hils said the zoo at Chehaw is paying special attention to teens and children, not only as a source of revenue, but as part of an outreach effort to spark interest in animals and nature at an early age. The zoo's emphasis in those directions are evidenced by its willingness to take the zoo to you over a 15-county range simply at the request of a particular school system or organization.
"They can just call us up," Hils said. "We have any number of programs suited for schools or scouts, festivals or even birthday parties. Some of these kids never get a chance to get out and have the experience with animals. The spin at Chehaw right now is 'no child left inside.'"
According to Hils, all educational programs utilize live animal encounters and biofacts (animal remains), and many are touchable. Youth involvement at the zoo is also achieved with programs for children as young as 3 to 4 years old and nature camps scheduled for every season of the year. Kids 13-17 years of age are eligible to act as volunteers in the Junior Zookeeper program, Hils said, and serve as camp counselors, exhibit hosts and animal care volunteers.
"We want to take you through the generations at Chehaw," Hils said. "We want you to come and benefit from the zoo, then bring your children. Later on, we want to see your grandchildren."
Toward the middle of his presentation, Hils announced he had a friend to introduce to the group. He then reached inside a large plastic cooler and brought out an eight-foot red-tailed boa constrictor named "Julius Squeezer." Though Julius proved too irritable to leave unboxed for long, Hils' illustration had been made.
Hils told the story of a Thomasville couple who not long ago called Chehaw to say they had some snakes to donate.
"The woman was not medically well," Hils said, "and though she loved her snakes, she just couldn't take care of them anymore and she wouldn't euthanize them. We took out three 9-foot Burmese pythons, eight ball pythons and one red-tailed boa. Every time she'd get a new snake, she'd build a new shed for it. She had a shed for rats, too, to feed the snakes."
The point of the story, according to Hils was that if Chehaw had not been available to pick up the snakes, the woman probably would have released them in her backyard or somewhere close, where they might ultimately have bred and added to the problem of exotic animals released in the area. Hils said he doesn't generally believe in exotic animals being kept as pets.
The zoo director said he was excited about an upcoming Chehaw attraction called the African Veldt, scheduled to open in the next few months. The Veldt is an approximation of the African grassland of central Africa and will feature the habitat and animals native to that region. According to Hils, the first hints of the African Veldt will be revealed at the Sip & Safari event scheduled for Saturday.
Hils said those interested in more information concerning the Zoo at Chehaw should call customer service at (229) 430-5275 or (229) 430-3012 for information on zoo educational programs.