CRESTVIEW — The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge is in the process of purchasing the former Sasquatch Zoo, and needs a little help along the way.
The zoo is expected to reopen as the Emerald Coast Wildlife Zoological Park in mid-February, pending license approval, officials said.
"This is the first time (the refuge) has taken on a task like this," Amanda Wilkerson, the refuge’s executive director, said.
The not-for-profit organization primarily volunteers efforts in rehabilitating Florida’s orphaned, injured and endangered species “in accordance with good wildlife management practices," the group’s official website, ecwildliferefuge.com, states.
The refuge seeks assistance in preparations for the re-opening.
"We are asking for volunteers to help with a variety of things including landscaping ... we could definitely use a professional landscaper and (an) electrician," Wilkerson said.
Although some specialized help is required, the refuge welcomes anyone interested to contact volunteer supervisor Susan Leveille at 850-650-1880.
"We will have a project for everyone that comes," Wilkerson said, adding only adult volunteers are needed.
Wilkerson expressed gratitude for those who have shown their support by volunteering. Volunteers this month have been meeting at the zoo on Saturdays. Nearly 25 volunteers showed up to participate on Jan. 5, Wilkerson said.
The Sasquatch Zoo — established in 1987 near Shoal River — moved to Deer Springs Drive two years later after flooding. It houses more than a hundred animals including lions, bears and monkeys.
Debbie Mattox — who has managed the zoo since it opened — contacted the refuge when she decided to retire.
"I wanted to find a way to keep the zoo here for the community," she said, adding county officials referred her to the refuge.
The zoo closed at the end of December to allow the refuge and volunteers to work.
It was a win-win situation for the refuge and the zoo’s inhabitants, for which Mattox deeply cares, she said.
"I have raised most of the animals since they were infants. They are like my children to me,” she said.
Mattox and her husband, Bill Bitsche, plan to stay involved with zoo operations after the transition.
Especially since they live next door.
"I joked with the refuge that they would have to keep me away with a broom," Mattox said.
She particularly anticipates additions.
The refuge will add "animal ambassadors" after the zoo re-opens; details will be released later, Wilkerson said.
The park also will add a summer educational program and new exhibits.
The refuge still will need help maintaining the park and its inhabitants after the zoo re-opens, officials said.
Want to go?
Contact Susan Leveille, volunteer coordinator, 650-1880 or firstname.lastname@example.org, to volunteer at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Zoological Park.
The zoo is at 5262 Deer Springs Drive in Crestview.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.