Oatland Island Wildlife Center
The closest thing Savannah has to a zoo is the vast, multipurpose Oatland Island Wildlife Center (711 Sandtown Rd., 912/898-3980, www.oatlandisland.org, Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–4 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., $5 adults, $3 children). Set on a former Centers for Disease Control site, it’s undergone an extensive environmental cleanup and is now owned by the local school system, though supported purely by donation.
Families by the hundreds come here for a number of special Saturdays throughout the year, including an old-fashioned cane-grinding in November and a day of sheep-shearing in April.
The main attractions here are the critters, located at various points along a meandering two-mile nature trail through the woods and along the marsh. All animals at Oatland are there because they’re somehow unable to return to the wild, usually because of injury (often at the hands of humans).
Highlights include a tight-knit pack of Eastern wolves, a pair of bison, some really cute foxes, and an extensive raptor aviary. Kids will love the petting zoo of farm animals, some of which are free to roam the grounds at will. But the crown jewel in Oatland’s menagerie is no doubt the magnificent Florida panther, a rare cousin to the American cougar.
The massive central building was designed by noted local architect Henrik Wallin as a retirement home for railroad conductors. Inside, check out the display of a huge set of whalebones, the remains of a 50-foot-long endangered fin whale that washed ashore on Tybee Island in 1989.
Getting to Oatland Island Wildlife Center
To get there from downtown Savannah, take President Street Extension (Islands Expressway) about five miles. Begin looking for the Oatland Island sign on your right. You’ll go through part of a residential neighborhood until you take a bend to the right; Oatland’s gate is then on the left.
To get to Oatland Island Wildlife Center from Bonaventure Cemetery, go straight out the gate on Bonaventure Road and take a right on Pennsylvania Avenue. As you dead-end on Islands Expressway, take a right and look for the entrance further along on the right.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition