There’s now a taste of “Down Under” at Noccalula Falls Park’s petting zoo.
The animal habitat recently added a female eastern grey kangaroo, the breed most associated with Australia, to its offerings.
It’s the park’s first marsupial — a mammal whose young aren’t born fully developed and must be housed in a mother’s pouch.
That currently limits the 9-month-old animal’s availability to visitors. She’s not a full-time resident of the animal enclosure yet, since she must still spend time inside a pouch substitute under the care of zookeeper Cindy Jones, but the kangaroo is often at the park in the afternoons.
And according to Mayor Craig Ford, she won’t be the last new resident, since the facility continues its rebuilding process after the 2021 fire that killed about 75 animals and forced it to shut down for a couple of months.
“We are committed to a thriving animal habitat that can serve as educational experiences for all visitors to Noccalula Falls Park,” Ford said. “I have asked the team at the park (Jones and Supervisor Christina Richardson) to look for opportunities to add animals that are not otherwise easily found around Northeast Alabama.”
John Moore, the city’s director of economic development and governmental affairs, said the goal was to make the petting zoo a little more exciting with something unusual that’s not been seen there before.
The plan is to add another kangaroo to give the park a mated set, then hold a contest to allow community members to name them.
There are about 15 animals currently on hand at the petting zoo; before the kangaroo’s arrival, the most exotic was a coatimundi, a raccoon-like animal that’s found from the Southwest U.S. through Central and South America.
Others include a donkey (that can be hand-fed by visitors), exotic pigeons, frogs, goats, a llama, a raccoon, sheep and a turtle.
Projected for the future is a new enclosed animal habitat, designed to improve that part of the experience for park visitors.
“Since we have children and families from all over Gadsden visiting, we want to offer the service of helping them learn about these animals and their environments through first-hand experience with them,” Ford said.
That’s on the heels of last year’s debut of two new electric trains, plus Ford has signaled that the city plans a $15 million upgrade to the park.
The current hours for visitors are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; the mini-golf attraction is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Visit www.noccalulafallspark.com for more information.