By Sgt. Amie J. McMillan/10th PCHMarch 1, 2013
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The North Post Exchange parking lot was occupied with more than cars and shopping carts, Feb. 15 as the Aloha Safari Zoo brought several of their exotic animals for the enjoyment of the military community.
Tigers, snakes, alpacas, goats and tortoises are not a usual sight when shopping at the Post Exchange. However, servicemembers and their Families were able to do just that and enjoy seeing and petting some of the animals.
The support of the Fort Bragg Army Air Force Exchange Services made the event possible as a way to show patrons they support the military and appreciate their everyday sacrifices.
"One of the main reasons we do this is to show that we're not just here to have you shop with us. We're involved in the community and we want to show that we support the military members as well," said Jerry Herron, store manager for South Post Exchange, and acting general manager, Fort Bragg AAFES.
"We're not only here to make money, even though it goes right back into the community. We also try to make the Soldiers and their Families happy on a daily basis," added Alex Dewberry, general manager secretary, Fort Bragg AAFES.
The Aloha Safari Zoo, a 60-acre animal sanctuary located in Cameron, N.C., opened to the public in January 2010, and is owned by Lee Crutchfield who grew up in the military.
While Crutchfield was in high school, he worked on the 60-acre property doing farm work for the owner. At 18, Crutchfield's high school principal, and owner of the land, offered to sell the land to him for a low, monthly cost because of his passion for animals and determination to do great things.
"I went to bed one night and had a vision, the vision was a zoo. I turned a 60-acre park into a preserve for animals and sanctuary for exotic animals," said Crutchfield, owner, Aloha Safari Zoo.
Crutchfield took this passion and determination to build an educational zoo, a safe habitat and a sanctuary for animals that were no longer wanted, or those animals that had been abused and needed refuge. Animals of all species need a safe place to call home and he made it happen.
The zoo is accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture, and has a license to house up to 500 animals, but currently has about 300 animals of various species, mostly exotic.
With the help of his Family, a small paid staff, and a team of mostly military volunteers, the Aloha Safari Zoo is able to care for the animals and keep the facility running.
"I enjoy the love I get back from the animals. I was raised on a farm and I've always dealt with animals. Being in a rural area and finding a place that has so many animals, it's just been a blessing in my life," said Air Force Master Sgt. John Gadwill, a three-year volunteer with the Aloha Safari Zoo. "I spend almost every minute I'm not at work, at the zoo. I've got wildlife running around my life," he noted.
The zoo offers a petting area, with goats, cows, camels, donkeys, ponies, and several other animals. Perhaps the most popular attraction, is the last part of the tour -- a 2.5-mile "safari ride" down a dirt road around the fenced acreage of enclosures where most of the zoo animals live in specialized habitats.
"We have a retired school teacher who tells people all about the animals, where they're from, all about their habitats, and explains everything you see," said Crutchfield.
"The message we're trying to convey is that taking care of exotic animals is difficult. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. A lot of people will take in a monkey or get an exotic pet thinking it's cool, it's fun, it's exciting, and realize later that it's really not," said Crutchfield. "We've actually even taken in a wolf off the streets of Fayetteville that somebody had as a pet," he added.
Whether you are six-years old or sixty, more than likely you will find something you enjoy at the Aloha Safari Zoo.
If you are looking for ways to volunteer, the animals at the Aloha Safari Zoo would be more than happy to have you on the volunteer team as well.
"Military veterinarians and medics train at our facility all the time. We're very active with this community and it's very active with us," added Crutchfield.
For more information on entry into the zoo or to volunteer, visit their website at, www.alohasafarizoonc.com.