There’s a new zoo guy in town

Growing up here, I went to the Gulf Breeze Zoo pretty regularly with my family and occasionally as a special field trip with school.

The place is massive, and the wide variety of animals is so cool. My favorites have and always will be the giraffes. There is just something about these giants with the gangly-looking legs, gentle eyes and the long purple tongues that I can’t get enough of. Now that they have two babies, Gibson and Kelly, I find myself there even more often.

I also find myself spending hours in the budgie enclosure as the bright little birds twitter and flutter. They’re always fussing over who gets what branch or preening each other’s feathers.

The train ride is also a delight as you chug past rhinos, hippos, zebras, gorillas and other native species. It’s like taking an African safari without the plane ticket.

While the zoo has always been a joy as it has grown throughout the years, I was surprised to learn that she’s got a new captain at the helm.

Jesse Pottebaum has taken over as director, and he’s got big plans in mind.(Big plans that I love.)

Just a little background on Jesse, he started his career at Sea World San Antonio cleaning tanks and preparing fishy smelling meals for the animals. But with a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in theater, he was a perfect candidate to eventually begin working with the animals in performances and enrichment activities.

He went on to help Sea World launch Discovery Cove where he trained dolphins about interacting with people in their pools and guided upclose encounters of the aquatic kind.

He’s a husband and father of three adorable young children, and he’s an animal lover to a fault.

It’s the face-to-face, hands-on interactions like those at Discovery Cove that he wants to develop here. Imagine a close encounter with rhinos, touching lemurs or even handfeeding baby giraffes. Jesse said when people can make a connection with an animal, the message of conservation clicks. That’s when children and even adults learn to care he said. That is powerful, and it is a big part of the zoo’s mission.

So with that in mind Jesse and the zoo owner will be investing in new experiences, expansions and exhibit enhancements in the coming months. He hinted at a “wet” exhibit in the future as well.

Visiting now or in the future, the Gulf Breeze Zoo offers a family-friendly atmosphere for a once in a lifetime wild experience. Stop by on your vacation.

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