The Ark is actually a petting zoo at the 500-acre Graystone Ranch Educational Center in Hephzibah, and it's an example of Rusty and Kandi Eskew's resourcefulness with converting donations into homes for their 200-300 animals.
Graystone is a state and federally licensed animal rehabilitation center, sanctuary and preserve. It's one of the three centers licensed in Georgia for all types of animals.
"No one would ever set out to do what we do," Mrs. Eskew said. "It's a calling."
There is no typical day for the Eskews. One recent day they were chasing down rabbits that escaped from a pen and giving an oil rubdown to an albino Burmese python that had trouble shedding its skin.
Three of their daughters also chip in: Adrianna Rain, 11, takes care of the birds, Alexandria Jade, 9, tends to the snakes, and Annaistasia Paris, 6, cares for the geese.
The family also counts on about 50 active volunteers, "Keepers of the Ark," who help with everything from visitor education to cleaning stalls.
Nothing goes to waste at Graystone. Castoff items are re-purposed: A trampoline frame, for example, was converted into an animal shelter.
They also created a mobile reptile unit out of a 1974 GMC motor home, and an old Columbia County inmates van was turned into a colorful van for the tigers.
"Everything that comes down this driveway is put to use," Mr. Eskew said.
There are three categories of animals at Graystone: Native animals in need of rehabilitation; discarded pets; and farm and exotic animals. About 3,000 animals are rescued each year, 200-300 stay at the center.
Its residents include Todd, a gray fox, and Napoleon, a raccoon; Kamaul, a 4-year-old Bengal tiger; and Sunga, a 4-year-old Siberian tiger who appeared in the movie Two Brothers. There's also Avalanche the ferret, llamas, miniature potbellied pigs, horses, a Zebu bull, goats and donkeys, peacocks, parrots and reptiles.
The Eskews said faith shaped their view of the interaction between people and animals: That God has given people dominion over animals.
"After all, the original conservationist was Adam," Mrs. Eskew said.
They stage various corporate events and birthday parties to pay the bills. They sell passes during the summer to a lake and beach, and present concerts on their stage. Otherwise, appointments are required to visit the center outside of events.
Because of the religious basis of their center, they receive no government funding.
"As long as we keep doing what we're doing, it'll work out," Mrs. Eskew said.
Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Graystone Ranch Wildlife Educational Center's Fall Festival. The weekend will include a petting zoo, hayrides, games, crafts, animal attractions including the tigers, a turkey shoot, music, cloggers and martial arts demonstrations. At night, there will be a DJ party Friday and a dance from 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday.
WHERE: 1017 McManus Road, Hephzibah
WHEN: 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday, Nov. 15, and 1-8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16
COST: $10 per day, $15 for the weekend; children get in free per paying adult; each additional child pays $5
FOR MORE INFORMATION: (706) 554-9082; www.graystoneranch.com