One of the most curious creatures on the planet is the human being, in part for our desire to watch other animals do what they do best. Although the Grand Strand doesn’t have a major zoo like San Diego or Cincinnati, the Myrtle Beach area does have a unique collection of specialized facilities that give guests an up-close look at various species of animals, from aquatic critters to land-dwellers and high-flying birds. Here’s a list of five places to see unusual animals on the Grand Strand:
Alligator Adventure: This Barefoot Landing nature park is much more than a gator farm. Sure, there are more alligators and crocodiles spread out around the lake than one can count, but they are only part of a larger sanctuary for reptiles and more. See rare snakes, turtles, and lizards in the reptile room, and other animal species are also on display, such as lemurs, wildcats and exotic birds. Regular feeding shows are held throughout the day, as well as lectures and shows.
Brookgreen Garden's Lowcountry Zoo: If you prefer seeing animals in their natural surroundings, this Murrells Inlet nature park is for you. See native species such as alligators, Otters and various birds of prey as you wander through their habitat – an SC Lowcountry swamp. Brookgreen also puts on a petting zoo with farm animals for kids to get up close and personal with horses, goats, and chickens, and the Butterfly House allows guests to see – not touch – the beautiful winged species from all over the world.
Ripley's Aquarium: Underwater creatures need a zoo too, and Ripley's delivers with this 1.4 million gallon facility that includes some of the rarest species of sea life from all over the planet. Walk through a tunnel surrounded by sharks at Danger Reef, a 750,000-gallon tank that puts you in the middle of the action. Kids enjoy the chance to pet stingrays and horseshoe crabs. Featured exhibits highlight fish from around the world, including the colorful fish of the Great Barrier Reef and piranhas from the Amazon River Basin. Located at Broadway at the Beach, this is a great place to take a break and cool off after a long day of shopping in the summer heat. Be sure to check out the gift shop or grab a bite to eat at Sharky’s Snack Bar.
T.I.G.E.R.S. Preserve: This unique breeding facility for large cats gives visitors an up-close look at these beautiful creatures, including the rare “liger,” part lion, part tiger. Handlers put the cats through their paces while guests marvel at their size, speed, and agility. Baby lions and tigers are bottle-fed by guests while the more mature cats show off the tricks taught to them by handlers. Some of the highly trained cats have appeared in major movies and have been featured on TV. This attraction is pricey, around $100 per person, but it's well worth it for true animal lovers.
Waccatee Zoo: This family farm in Socastee has been collecting rare animals for decades, but it only recently opened its doors to the outside world. The Futrell family finally got tired of curious passers-by pulling into their driveway to see elephants, camels, and water buffalo, so they fenced in the creatures and allowed guests to roam a nature trail to see them up close. Now featuring lions, tigers, monkeys, bears and rare critters like the zeedonk (part zebra, part donkey), Waccatee Zoo is the closest thing the Grand Strand has to a major zoological park.