By Kelly Baughman
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s Dr. Adam Langston Provides Top Notch Care to the Animals He Knows and Loves
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo has won a place in the hearts of many all over the world, with its lovable animals and undeniable perseverance against all odds. Thanks to Dr. Adam Langston, the zoo’s head veterinarian and interim director, the animals you know and love are in good hands as they prepare for the big move to the new site this fall.
Dr. Langston, grew up in Louisville, Kentucky where attended the University of Kentucky. He then began his veterinary training at Auburn University, one of the premiere programs in the country. Upon graduation, Langston returned to Kentucky where he worked with a variety of small animals as well as large species like horses, cows, sheep, and exotics.
“I was working with three other doctors at a large practice, which allowed me to be very hands on with many different kinds of animals. It was here that I learned much of the large animal knowledge I use here on a daily basis,” Langston said.
While he enjoyed his time “playing cowboy” as he put it, Dr. Langston said that treating animals on the farm was challenging. “Being on the road, you don’t always have what you need to give the level of care you want to. It’s hard to control the surroundings, and sometimes you don’t know how dire a situation is until you set foot on the property. Not to mention there are dogs and cats back at the clinic that need attention as well. It became too hard to try to be in so many places at one,” he recalled.
Twelve years ago, Dr. Langston was looking for a place to use his expertise and knowledge of veterinary medicine more efficiently. His search for something outside of his comfort zone and his love of the water and sailing led him to the Gulf Coast. Almost immediately, Langston became affiliated with the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, but his transition to zoo medicine wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.
“I was taught very little about zoo medicine at Auburn. In fact, most veterinary schools don’t teach it. Upon taking this job, I really learned by trial and error. The hands-on interaction with animals like lions, bears, and kangaroos allowed me to learn how to care for the types of animals most people, even some vets, never get to come in contact with,” he said.
Dr. Langston did such a fantastic job not only with the veterinary care with the animals, but also in creating bonds with the animals and staff that allowed a level of trust that made him the obvious choice for the zoo’s interim director in the absence of the zoo’s beloved former director, Patti Hall.
The transition to the new zoo will begin in October as the current location will officially close its doors on September 30th. If all goes according to plans, Dr. Langston said the move should take approximately a month and a half, and the new zoo will be open for business in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, if not sooner.
“These animals have deserved a better home for a long time. After what happened during Hurricane Ivan, we knew this move was a necessity. When Ivan happened, there were only about 300 animals in the zoo’s care. Now, there are 630 animals on site. Evacuating that many to higher ground just isn’t feasible, not to mention sedation is difficult and stressful for the animals. This new property is going to make life a lot easier for the animals and the keepers, and will probably save many lives when another big hurricane heads our way,” Langston said.
The zoo took on a tremendous amount of debt to make this project a reality, but now not only will the animals have larger, more natural habitats, Dr. Langston said the entire zoo can be locked down in safe, concrete facilities outfitted with each individual animal’s needs in mind in a matter of a few hours, not days.
Dr. Langston said his biggest challenge as the zoo’s vet is treating the animals in a manner that is safe for both the staff and the animals. “Wild animals, in general, are not willing participants for treatment. They may have a problem that is as simple as an IV treatment to solve, but it’s not exactly easy to make a tiger put his paw out for you,” he said.
Luckily, Dr. Langston said the mantra of the zoo has always been to build strong relationships between the keepers and the animals, and he believes that the animals do indeed know and trust the staff. “We are able to give vaccines and sedate the animals when necessary just by getting them to come up to us in their enclosures. They come up, we rub their ears, give them their shots, and they walk away. Many times, it’s as easy as that,” he added.
When it comes to the USDA shutdown of the Tiger Encounters that the zoo was once famous for, Dr. Langston said he sees both sides of the fence. “These class A animals can really do damage to visitors as they get larger, and of course animal and guest safety is our number one priority. We are also concerned with where these highly socialized animals end up, and our organization wanted to make sure that the welfare of the animals, post encounter, was being carried out,” he said.
“While we miss the tiger encounters, there are many other animals that are safer that we still allow hands-on encounters with like lemurs, sloths, and baby kangaroos. We still want visitors to be able to create their own bond with our other animals. We find that it leaves people with a sense of responsibility for their survival and in taking care of our environment for generations to come,” Langston said.
That is what sets the Alabama Gulf Coast zoo apart from other zoos; a hands-on approach to animal education. “Being able to touch their fur, and interact with them helps guests to become a proponent for animal conservation and opens up a dialog of how animals deserve to be treated. We love being able to show people, especially young kids, how to properly take care of animals and how to appreciate their beauty and purpose,” he said.
While Dr. Langston said he will remain the head veterinarian at the zoo, he does not have intentions on remaining the director of the zoo in the future. Instead, the zoo will find a permanent replacement as the transition to the new site is completed.
He is currently building his own practice that will treat small animals (dogs, cats, birds, etc.) on the property of the new zoo so that he can give the best care possible to the zoo residents as well as local pets.
“My main focus is the animals. This practice will allow me to give both the zoo animals and domestic animals the care they need fast in a facility supplied with the best equipment to treat their issues,” Langston assured. The clinic will provide ultrasounds, radiography, endoscopy, and much more.
It’s easy to see that Dr. Langston truly loves animals. His dedication and gentle approach to animal care makes him an invaluable asset to “the Little Zoo That Could” now, and in the future.
“This zoo belongs to the people and I’m lucky to be who they’ve chosen to take care of the animals. They are first and foremost my priority, and although many exciting changes are on the horizon for the zoo, my dedication to their care never will.”
Zoo hours are 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.alabamagulfcoastzoo.com or call 251-968-5731.