LOCUST GROVE, Ga — The air is crisp, there is an undistinguished smell between nature itself and fresh manure, and there are peacocks, geese, roosters, and ducks roaming freely on freshly cut grass. I'm standing on 250 acres of land about 40 miles southeast from the city of Atlanta. I am at Noah's Ark Rehabilitation Center.
One of the main facilities at Noah's Ark in Locust Grove, Georgia.
Noah's Ark is a non-profit animal sanctuary for both exotic and farm animals. Here they carry and rehabilitate animals from struggling zoos, struggling circuses, and surrendered breeders. Many of these animals are rescues and Noah's Ark rehabs hundreds of animals yearly through their Wild Life Rehabilitation Program. Noah's Ark is not state or federally funded and they receive donations and volunteers yearly.
Visitors are welcome Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12pm to 3pm, free of charge.
A sign to make visitors aware of their non-profit sanctuary at Noah's Ark Welcome Center.
One of their most famous trios are their "BLT." A bear, lion, and tiger were rescued from an Atlanta police drug raid over 15 years ago. Baloo, the American black bear, Leo, the African lion, and Shere Khan, the Bengal tiger were only cubs when found and brought on board to Noah's Ark. They were malnourished and infected with internal and external parasites when found by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The three "brothers" were kept in the same area at Noah's Ark and grew up together. Unfortunately, Leo just passed in August of 2016 after numerous operations due to tumors discovered in his stomach. He was buried by the trio's clubhouse which was his favorite resting spot.
Baloo, Leo, and Shere Khan's original spot at Noah's Ark.
"I love taking my grandchildren here...it teaches them to love and care for animals," Brenda Wilkins, a Henry County resident, said. Wilkins has been both a visitor and proud volunteer for the past 8 years.
On site, there are hundreds of emus. There are also parrots, turtles, snakes, monkeys, foxes, wolves, goats, bears, and tigers that call Noah's Ark home. Noah's Ark also takes care of animals that have special needs either physically, mentally or emotionally and are allowed to be petted by visitors, at their own risk.
Emus and billy goats roaming at Noah's Ark.
Noah's Ark was founded by Jama Hedgecoth in 1978 originally in Ellenwood, Georgia and moved to its current location, Locust Grove, in 1990. The sanctuary is named after the biblical Noah's Ark.
"It's an ark of safety so to speak...it represents love and healing," Hedgecoth said. Hedgecoth now oversees operations and development and is the "dreamer" to keep Noah's Ark vision alive. Hedgecoth says she has cared for injured and unwanted animals for as long as she can remember.
Noah's Ark certificates and awards displayed at their welcome center.
Noah's Ark has received recognition and awards for their non-profit work over the years.
"We wouldn't be possible without the generous donations we receive from the public...running the facility isn't cheap," Hedgecoth said.
A sign in front of where the turtles are kept at Noah's Ark.
There are many ways to help besides volunteering. Noah's Ark has a sanctuary supplies list, an amazon wish list, animal wish list, has a dog and cat adoption center, and you can get a Noah's Ark Brick of Love engraved with a customized message where it will be displayed on their memorial garden.
On April 1 they are running their 7th Annual Zebra Dash 5k. Participants can either run a mile for $25 or a 5K for $30. All proceeds will be going to Noah's Ark. Registration ends on March 8.
Visitors leaving Noah's Ark