The Lowcountry’s Wild Side

Aprilmay Internal10

Roaming wolf packs, exotic birds and a group of pot-bellied pigs all call Oatland Island home. Large furry sheep and fast foxes mingle with alligators and turtles. And while it may seem natural for the bears to rule the roost, it’s the local kids who visit and learn from the animals that really run this nature preserve

An extreme home makeover on an 84-year-old building isn’t unusual in historic Savannah. Neither is the fact that the mansion — a stately red brick Georgian colonial with grand white Ionic columns and gracious, glass-enclosed walkways overlooking live oaks and magnolia trees – has a tabloid-worthy past. (In this case, a former hospital for syphilis and a center for experiments on radioactive mosquitoes – but more on that later). But what is unusual are the mansion’s neighbors — a real wild bunch: Rocky the armadillo, Wa Hoo Hoo the owl and Esmeralda the gopher tortoise, to name a few. At Oatland Island Wildlife Center, the 175-acre environmental education and animal habitat facility five miles east of downtown Savannah, you learn to expect the unexpected. On a recent afternoon, Dottie the sheep and Streaker the pig nibbled on veggies from the new organic garden tended by staffers from Whitemarsh Island’s hip, environmentally responsible restaurant Thrive, A Carry Out Cafe. Down the trail, SCAD performing arts students studied animal behavior for a class on character development. Tweens from a local middle school were freaking out about the wolf pack — not the Taylor Lautner/Twilight variety but something way cooler — a real wolf pack. And now the completion of a $5 million renovated main building brings new energy to the 37-year-old wildlife refuge. “If you haven’t visited OIWC lately, you’re going to be surprised,” says Kris Posman, WSAV News 3 chief meteorologist and board member of the Friends of Oatland, a nonprofit organization that provides physical and financial support to the center’s owners, the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools and Board of Education.

Written By: Averie Storck