Chestatee Wildlife Preserve
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day
Where: 469 Old Dahlonega Highway, Dahlonega
Cost: $10 per person, $5 for children ages 11 and younger
More info: 678-859-6820 or www.chestateewildlife.com
Nestled in the North Georgia mountains is a haven for rescued wild animals.
And on a daily basis, the animal sanctuary opens its doors to young and old to see the creatures at an affordable price, making it an optimal summer outing for local families.
Entirely dependent on private funding, donations and visitors, the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve is a nonprofit that receives no funding for each animal it rescues.
“We actually take in wild animals that are brought to us by the Department of Natural Resources,” zookeeper Kayla Morris said.
These animals include white and golden Siberian tigers, gray wolves, a fennec fox, a wide variety of birds, multiple zebras, two grizzly bears and an undersized black bear.
“We have prairie dogs, foxes, a variety of monkeys, bearded dragons, hedgehogs, a male lion and female lioness, Siberian tigers, wolves, alligators,” Morris said. “I could go on.”
Because the preserve is a nonprofit, all the donations it receives go straight to the care of the animals, Morris said.
Founded by C.W. Wathen, the preserve’s purpose was to rescue the animals only, not share them with the public.
“But we opened up to some children with cancer once and saw how it just opened all the children’s eyes,” Wathen previously told The Times. “From that day on — and that was about 28 years ago now — we’ve never closed our doors to the general public.”
Morris said visits to the preserve at 469 Old Dahlonega Highway in Dahlonega are affordable, at $10 per person and only $5 for children ages 11 and younger.
“Not only is it cheaper than a lot of other zoos, but I think you can get closer to a lot of our animals because they’re not behind glass,” she said. “They’re safely in cages or enclosures.”
Morris said “the coolest” thing to do at the preserve is schedule an animal encounter for a flat rate of $100.
“You can pet them and hold them for a picture, while learning a lot about them,” she said.
These private “small animal shows” are available with zookeepers and cockatoos, alligators, ball pythons, corn snakes, African spur-thigh tortoises and bearded dragons to name a few.
The preserve also does encounters called “breakfast with the big cats,” which allows guests to feed African lions, white Siberian tigers, leopards, servals and bobcats alongside Wathen.
This encounter is private, for a minimum two people 12 or older and requires at least a week’s advance reservation. Cost is $250 per person.
Morris said encounters can be scheduled for any size group, from a large church group to a family.
“They’re really neat and people really enjoy them,” she said. “I’ve been told many times it is well worth the money.”
For more information, call 678-859-6820 or visit www.chestateewildlife.com.