Giraffes, zebras, camels, monkeys and kangaroos. This isn't an expensive vacation to another continent, all these exotic animals can be found at Bright's Zoo in Limestone, Tenn.
The zoo, located off 11-E, is far from a roadside attraction. It features 82 different species and close to 400 animals.
"Families can come out and spend just a few hours or come and spend the entire day seeing and learning about some amazing animals," said Bright's Zoo director David Bright.
Some of the animals can't be viewed at any of the bigger zoos. For example, you'll find the only pair of mating Martial Eagles in the United States there along with one of Bright's favorite animals, the Eastern Bongo. The endangered antelope can grow up to 900 pounds.
"There are less then 500 in captivity and less then 500 in the wild," Bright said. "They're just a real laid back animal and really fun to work with."
Of course, there are the fan-favorite giraffes that visitors are able to feed carrots three times a day and you can even step into the Lorikeet cage to come in contact with some colorful birds.
"Some of the animals that you see here, you won't see anywhere else," Bright said.
Bright's Zoo is entering its sixth season of being open to the public and just its second year of allowing families to free-roam the compound to view the animals at their own speed.
"That allows the families to move at their own pace and you don't have a guide rushing you," Bright said.
David's parents bred quarter horses while he was growing up, before starting to raise zebras. Then, over 20 years ago, they started raising exotics with a focus on endangered species. As they began to bring in more and more endangered species, the concept of opening to the public came into play.
"If it was endangered, we wanted to start breeding that animal to help bring up numbers," Bright said. "If people don't get involved and start taking notice of these beautiful endangered species then, 20 to 30 years from now, these animals aren't going to be here for people to see."
The Brights have been a major breeding facility, providing animals for zoos across the nation, for the past 15 years. The fact that they are contributing to keeping endangered species alive is why the Brights have continued to breed and show the exotic animals.
"We want these animals to be here for future generations to enjoy," Bright said.
The Zoo is constantly expanding with new habitats being built all of the time. New spaces for Giant Anteaters and Clouded Leopards are in the process of being built and should be done by the end of summer.
"If you come at the beginning of the season and see some things, there is a good chance that you can come back towards the end and see some new things," Bright said.
They are also expecting a baby giraffe, hopefully before July.
Season passes are available for families so that they can come back and check on the new things that are coming to the zoo during the summer or fall. The zoo typically doesn't shut down until December or when it starts to reach 50 degrees.
"We could stay open year-round, but the value the customer gets isn't worth it," Bright said. "We don't want people walking through the zoo and missing out on any of the animals."
Bright's Zoo is also offering one day summer camps for varying age ranges on July 28-30.
For more prices and information on the camps and Bright's Zoo, please visit their website at www.brightszoo.com or their Facebook page at Brights Zoo.