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New Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge opens Saturday in Crestview

CRESTVIEW   --  The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge will open its new zoological park tomorrow in Crestview.

The refuge purchased the former "Sasquatch Zoo" last January.
Laura Hussey "This is Oscar, he's a three month old Ringtail Lemur. The runt of the litter. I can identify. He's one of the many animals you can see Saturday at the opening of the new Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park."

Volunteers are working down to the wire, improving animal habitats and putting in new landscaping.

Lorna Lindberg/Crestview "Everybody that comes out here puts their blood, sweat and tears into everything. Everybody wants this to be perfect."

One moment captures the past and future of this place.
Look what happens when former owner Debbie Maddox walks up to Levi, the Lion she raised from a cub.
Maddox will stay three years to help with the transition.
For the refuge, the new zoo is a chance to help animals that fall outside their mission of rehabilitating native wildlife.

Amanda Wilkerson "There has always been a need in our area to have a rescue organization to take in exotics. We turn away animals weekly that are in need of a home."

New rescues will live alongside animals like Albert  once a dancing bear.
Every animal here has a story.

The refuge plans to bring some out of their pens, to make a deeper connection with visitors.

Amanda Wilkerson "I think making that personal connection even just with one species of animal allows them so see all the animals that they live with as an individual and it will help them want to coexist."             

Director Amanda Wilkerson says the best part of having the zoo is it allows the refuge to invite in the public for the first time.

Lorna Lindberg "It's a blessing to have people like that to take care of animals that are in need."   

Laura Hussey "This guy is one of the new exhibits at the park. He's a two-toed sloth. Unlike the other animals, he doesn't have a name yet. Saturday at the grand opening there will be a "name the sloth" contest for the kids and the kids at heart.