ETHEL, La. (BRPROUD) – What started as a way to bring tourism to East Feliciana Parish has now become a home for almost 200 exotic animals.

Barn Hill Preserve opened in 2012 in Ethel. The owner, East Feliciana native Gabe Ligon, wanted to bring tourism to the parish and educate students about animals and conservation. Now the facility has 200 animals from more than 40 different species. Ligon co-owns the Barn Hill Preserve in New Jersey.

Barn Hill Preserve Director Hunter Hullett says the facility is not a sanctuary, but a zoological facility. The zoological park breeds threatened and endangered species and also allows people to have interactions with animals. Hullett says sanctuaries don’t do that.

“A proper sanctuary does not breed animals or allow interactions with their animals,” Hullett said. “We do accept owner surrenders of previous pets, such as macaws and small reptiles, even a serval.”

Hullet says the facility doesn’t use the term “rescue” because the animals don’t always come from bad homes.

“For example, we recently acquired a parrot from the sweetest elderly couple that had him for 15 years and they took excellent care of him. However, due to health reasons, they could no longer properly care for him,” Hullett said.

Most of the animals at Barn Hill Preserve were born at the facility or came from other zoological facilities.

“We have everything from three-banded armadillos, African penguins, and reticulated giraffes to hyenas and binturongs,” he said. “We are home to almost 20 surrendered parrots and multiple surrendered bearded dragons and blue-tongued skinks.”

Hullett says Barn Hill Preserve does support a sanctuary in Costa Rica. Kids Saving the Rainforest is a wildlife hospital in Manuel Antonio that rescues animals such as squirrel monkeys and sloths.

“We send supplies, donations, and staff members to assist at the sanctuary often,” Hullett said.

Last year, Barn Hill Preserve raised over $10,000 at Slothtoberfest to send to Kids Saving the Rainforest. It’s the facility’s biggest event. This year, the event is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29 at 5:30 p.m.

Hullett says buying tickets to events and visiting the facility helps support them. Guests can take a two-hour guided tour of the 13-acre zoo and learn about the exotic animals. The facility offers guests the chance to swim with otters and have a picnic with giraffes.

Find more information on Barn Hill Preserve’s guided tours here.

“Feeding 200 mouths can be very expensive and we are extremely grateful for the level of support we have received over the last 10 years,” he said.