Chestatee Wildlife Preserve and Zoo is both an enjoyable and educational destination for anyone visiting beautiful Northern Georgia. Nestled in a gorgeous mountain setting, this 30-acre park is dedicated to the preservation of both exotic and domestic animals. Many of the park’s inhabitants are rescue animals that were saved from dire conditions in environments where they weren’t receiving proper care or adequate food.
History of the Preserve
Chestatee Wildlife Preserve and Zoo was founded in 1992 by Kentucky native C.W. Wathen. Wathen did not originally intend to become a wild animal rescuer. He began to raise buffalo on the land where the family farm had been after his father left the farming business. As an animal lover, Wathen soon began to acquire both domestic and exotic animals, often from owners who could not afford to feed them or provide them with appropriate care. When Wathen moved to Georgia, the law required him to obtain a state license for keeping exotic animals. Georgia licensing also involved becoming a recognized shelter for rescue animals. As more and more rescue animals were brought by state officials to Wathen’s property, Chestatee Wildlife Preserve evolved into the type of facility it is today, moving from Forsyth county to it’s current, more spacious location in Dahlonega.
A group of terminally ill children from a local hospital arranged for a visit to the park, and that’s when Wathen first realized the benefit of allowing the animals in his care to be viewed by the public. The children were thrilled with the excitement of seeing the wildlife in an up-close and personal setting. Wathen figured that allowing people to see the animals would raise awareness of the need for donations to the park to help sustain the animals’ standard of living.
More than 150 animals currently live within the preserve. Funded by private donations and staffed mainly by caring volunteers, Chestatee Wildlife Preserve and Zoo is a 501 (c) nonprofit organization.
Highlights of the Park
Chestatee Wildlife Preserve and Zoo, is off the beaten path, so you won’t need to worry about the noise of traffic blocking out the serenity of the park’s natural surroundings. You’ll be able to clearly focus on the animals, listening to the various sounds they make and watching them as they frolic and play in this breathtaking mountain setting.Wathen and his volunteers can be seen busily tending to animals as well as cheerfully interacting with guests at the park. They’re able to answer questions as well as provide helpful information about the different animal exhibits. All volunteers are adults who have been given careful instructions and guidelines about how to properly care for the wildlife. These individuals seem to truly love the animals they work with day after day.
As previously mentioned, this facility houses lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) There are also numerous other fascinating species on display throughout the zoo. These include rare species such as the Zedonk, which is a cross between a Zebra and a Donkey. Because they’re a hybrid these animals are actually sterile, making them incredibly rare. They have the distinctive look of a donkey, while retaining the classic zebra stripes. One of the other rare species of animals at the park are the snowy White Siberian Tigers. These majestic beasts are a beautiful sight to behold. Both grizzly and black bear exhibits are available for guests to view, including L.B., (Little Bear,) a bear who was found as a cub and rescued from certain death when he was brought to the park. There’s also frisky lemurs. Peacocks, chickens, and guinea hens roam freely and enjoy being fed by guests. The elk at the preserve made an appearance in a Hunger Games movie.
Learning and Interactive Experience Opportunities
When you come to the park, you can have a chance to interact with some of the wildlife under careful supervision from the knowledgeable staff. There are currently two different wild animal encounters available to guests. They involve interaction with either small animals or big cats.
Small Animal Encounter
The zookeeper shows and explains interesting facts about numerous small animals. These range from Ball Pythons, to Corn Snakes, to African Spur-thigh Tortoises, Bearded Dragons, Cockatoos, and Hedgehogs. Guests are invited to hold or touch the animals that are being displayed. These educational sessions provide plenty of photo opportunities. The cost to be admitted to this special show is $100 for the entire group, and it is open to visitors of all ages.
Big Cat Breakfast Encounter
These encounters take place at 9:00 AM when C.W. Wathen leads guests in feeding big cats such as Siberian Tigers, African Lions, and Leopards their morning meal. Guests will also get a close encounter with Grizzly Bears, Bobcat, Servals, Elk, Zebra, Horses, and Water Buffalo. It’s truly an unforgettable experience!
If you’re looking for some fun and adventure as well as a way to learn about and support wildlife rescue efforts, Chestatee Wildlife Preserve and Zoo could be the ideal destination for you to visit.
What: Chestatee Wildlife Preserve & Zoo
Where: 469 Old Dahlonega Highway, Dahlonega, Georgia 30533
Cost: Regular admission to the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve and Zoo is $5.00 for guests aged 11 years old or younger, and $10 for guests aged 12 and older.
Hours: The park is open daily from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM unless there’s heavy rain. They are closed Christmas Day.
Food: There are soft drink machines available and guests are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to eat on the grounds.