By Tara Bennett
This safe haven for animals was founded by husband and wife duo Gabe and Leslie Ligon. Gabe has been a life-long animal lover, starting out by hatching chicken eggs when he was five years old. His love of animals led him to pursue a degree in animal science at LSU. He has always dreamed of opening an animal preserve, and after rehabilitating wildlife in Costa Rica, he received the inspiration he needed in order to open Barn Hill Preserve in 2012.
“This has been a big adventure,” said Ligon. “I started doing small shows for schools and it just took off immediately with our mobile program.”
The preserve is host to a wide array of animals, but began as a sanctuary for macaws. Currently, Barn Hill is home to nearly 20 macaws, 16 of which are free-flying.
“Almost all of our macaws are owner-surrenders,” said Ligon. “Macaws live for a very long time and many people don’t think before they decide to own one as a pet and realize they can’t provide the proper care for them.”
Today Barn Hill hosts more than just macaws, including kangaroos, emus, wallabies, porcupines, peacocks, chickens, dogs, cranes, tortoises, a baby lynx, a baby sloth, and more. Several of the species are rescue animals, who have found a better life on the preserve, such as Flapjack, an African Sulcata tortoise.
“She had a severely deformed shell from improper care,” said Ligon. “She’s grown a lot since we got her and her shell is doing much better.”
All of the animals handle being around people very well as they have been bottle fed from an early age, which makes for a great experience in interacting with the animals.
“All of our animals are desensitized, they’ve grown up around people” said Ligon. “It’s very important that we do that so that they’re not scared of people. If they live in captivity and they’re scared of people, they live a pretty miserable life. I feel animals have a very low stress life if they’re used to their keepers.”
There are still a few more chances to see all of the exotic animals this year before it closes for the season.
“We’re closed until the spring so we can provide the animals with adequate winter housing and most of that is not good for visibility,” said Ligon.
Each weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the month of October, Barn Hill hosts its yearly Pumpkin Patch where animal lovers both young and old can come to the reserve and experience animal encounters, explore corn and hay mazes, go on hayrides, and even take home a pumpkin. On Sundays, children can meet their favorite princess or superhero.
“We had over a thousand people here just last weekend, so the pumpkins have been going pretty quickly” said Ligon. “We’re going to buy the property across the road and quadruple the size of our pumpkin patch for next year.”
Admission for Barn Hill is $10 for adults and $7 for children under 12. Children under 2 are free. For more information, visit barnhillpreserve.com.