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When most people think of Brookgreen Gardens, just south of Myrtle Beach, images of beautiful blooming flowers and elaborate statues spring to mind. But many are not aware that Brookgreen Gardens is also home to the only accredited zoo by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums on the Carolina coast.
The Brookgreen Garden’s Lowcountry Zoo is home to a wide selection of species that are native to the surrounding swamps, salt marshes and tidal creeks of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Featuring a nice collection of wild and domesticated animals, this attraction is perfect for the whole family and is included in regular park admission.
The diverse mix of wildlife that can be seen from the winding boardwalk includes the American alligator, the apex predators of the region and a crowd favorite. Left alone to live a normal life in the swamps, the alligators can be seen sunning on the grassy islands or stealthy swimming through the murky waters. Some of the gators that frequent the observation area are longer than 10 feet and plenty fat from the abundance of prey in the environment.
Another popular resident are the river otters that put on an unscripted show for visitors. Guests can observe the playful creatures in a large aquarium and marvel at their underwater moves, or watch them in their natural setting as they race and chase one another around the river. Have your camera ready to catch some funny footage of the otters at play, especially the young pups that are recent additions to the zoo.
Perhaps the most impressive exhibit is the Cypress Aviary, a fully enclosed boardwalk through a Cypress Swamp that is home to more than 100 species of native birds. Featuring only birds that are not releasable to the wild, this aviary serves as a rehab center for our fair-feathered friends that have been sick or injured. See the American bald eagle, hawks, owls, black-crowned herons, white ibis, and wood ducks. The birds can freely fly within the spacious confines of netting draped from the treetops.
Visitors can also spot wild animals such as red and grey foxes, flying squirrels, and white-tailed deer from the new wooden walkway that stretches across a large meadow. The boardwalk also offers up-close views of domesticated creatures, like Spanish goats, Marsh Tacky Horses, mules, chickens and more. Visitors can have a close encounter with the domesticated critters during a guided tour at 2:30 p.m. every day.
Visitors are also invited to attend two daily installments of the Nature’s Café educational program, which involves a tour of the zoo with an interpreter for animal feedings. See the domesticated animals feast on feed and fresh fruits and vegetables, and see the birds of prey dine on mice and other prey. This is the best time to get photos of some of the zoo’s shier creatures.
Also available for tours is the Butterfly House, a new attraction that features hundreds of species of butterflies from around the world. Offering tours every half hour, this unique collection of butterflies allows patrons to learn how to identify various species by their colorful markings and wing patterns. The building is also the site for several wildlife educational programs that are held regularly for visitors at no extra charge.
For those feeling a little more adventurous, Brookgreen Gardens also offers boat rides that venture out into the dense swamplands and backwaters of the Waccamaw Neck, the confluence of the Waccamaw River, Intracoastal Waterway, and Big and Little Pee Dee River basin. Explore the backwaters of the former rice and indigo plantations and see all the animals of the Lowcountry in their natural habitats.