When Rick de Ridder bought the Emerald Coast Zoo two years ago, he knew he wanted to make improvements. Two months ago, the zoo created a GoFundMe but the zoo still needs help.

CRESTVIEW —The Emerald Coast Zoo is slowly seeing improvements.

The zoo originally opened as the Sasquatch Zoo 30 years ago. Two years ago it was bought by Rick de Ridder, or “Rick the Reptile Guy.” Since purchasing the zoo, de Ridder has been looking for ways to improve it.

“We know that God gave us this job,” he said. “It’s our job to take care of these animals. It’s a lot to take on but we’re making it, and every time you come you see bigger improvements.”

One improvement is the new zoo kitchen, the center for all of the animals’ dietary needs.

Before building of a new kitchen, a lot of the food was getting fixed and cleaned outside, where dirt could get to it.

“The customers don’t really get to see this, but the health of the animals is very important,” de Ridder said.

In March the zoo created a GoFundMe to ask the community to help raise money to build new enclosures. The GoFundMe goal was set for $400,000. The most recent donation two weeks ago brought the amount  raised to $12,200, but it’s not enough.

For de Ridder, the first big goal is to raise $25,000 to build a new enclosure for the zoo’s famous Levi the lion. De Ridder said Levi, who was born at the zoo and has doubled his life expectancy, needs to be in a bigger enclosure to roam freely. Once Levi is moved into a bigger enclosure, the spot where he now lives will be used to expand the tiger enclosure.

“We want to make it better for the animals,” de Ridder said. “We want to give them a more natural place to live.”

In addition to bigger enclosures, de Ridder is also looking to expand the number of animals at the zoo. In a few weeks it will get three Nile crocodiles, and eventually de Ridder hopes to bring in a giraffe that has been used in Hollywood movies.

While de Ridder can come up with many ideas for the zoo, the ideas won’t work without money. He hopes those who love animals and want to make Crestview better will continue to donate to the GoFundMe site.

“We need to have something fun for people to see,” de Ridder said. “We want to make this zoo a fun place for people in Crestview to go to.”

If you would like to donate to the zoo, visit the zoo's GoFundMe page, "Please Help Us Build These Animals Homes!"