BROADALBIN – Like an endangered species, Dave Eglin’s Adirondack Animal Land is the last of its kind in the local region.
But that wasn’t always so.
“?By the year 2000, there were 11 small zoos between Cooperstown and Granville,” Eglin said, remembering a period when more businesses were attempting to operate small zoos. “Those zoos found out that here in the Northeast, closed from October through to spring, still having to feed these animals – there’s no money left. They would end up trying to borrow money just to stay in business, and now today they’re all gone. They’re all closed. Utica Zoo is a city/state zoo and they’re still around, because they get government funding but little private zoos – there’s hardly none left. If you’re looking to do it as a cash revenue business for big profits, it’s not there. If your labor is not of love for animals and doing this business, you just can’t make it.”
Eglin opened Adirondack Animal Land, a small, privately owned zoo, in 1992 after purchasing a produce farm on Route 30 in Broadalbin. He said he saw an opportunity to establish an entertainment venue near the Great Sacandaga Lake.
“There really is no family-oriented form of entertainment on the lake unless you boat, fish or camp and with [the Adirondack Park Agency regulating development] you can’t even build a miniature golf course up there,” he said. “We’re just outside the APA, so without those restrictions; that’s what made it all work for us,”
Eglin said he used revenues from the 51 apartments he owns in the town and village of Broadalbin to build and expand Animal Land over the decades to the point where he’s got about 500 animals at the zoo, including kangaroos, primates, monkeys, tortoises, giraffes, camels, ostriches, pigs, deer, bears, different kinds of birds and many other animals.
The tourist portion of Adirondack Animal Land’s business model was born out of Eglin’s experiences as a kid going to the Catskill Game Farm and the amusement park that were near to it called Carson City. Eglin said he remembers his parents having to pay separate admission prices at the different venues and he purposefully designed his park to include exhibits that would allow for a petting zoo experience, a western town experience for children and the venue’s popular safari ride – all of which are included with his admission price.
“You can interact with any animal in the bottom side of the park by feeding them through feeding tubes. The interaction is the big thing that we have,” Eglin said. “I think our two biggest draws are the giraffes, which you can feed and pet here, which you can’t do at most zoos and then the safari ride.”
Dave’s son Tye Eglin helps his father with taking visitors on the safari ride. The ride includes a tour through several acres of open grassland where 100 different animals live and graze. During the ride the animals, including camels and ostriches often come right to the safari wagon, because they know Dave or Tye will feed them.
“Most of them were bottle fed and we raised them since they were babies, so they love people,” Tye said. “Some people love it and others are scared to death, but that’s part of the thrill of it.”
Adirondack Animal Land benefits from a strong business from elementary school field trips, with pupils traveling from 120 different school districts to the park annually.
“That’s the only reason we open up earlier in the spring, while the schools are open,” Dave Eglin said.
Dave Eglin said over the years the revenues from Adirondack Animal Land’s animal breeding operation have grown to equal the money the business makes selling tickets.
“It’s about 50/50 now,” he said. “We’ve added more breeding stock as time has gone on. We only started with three camels originally, a male and two females. and now we have 24.”
Adirondack Animal Land breeds and sells camels and giraffes. Camels cost $4,000 for the males and $7,000 for the females. Giraffes, which have a 14-month gestation period, cost $35,000 for a male and $70,000 for a female.
Dave Eglin said revenues from the breeding operation help keep the park profitable despite rising costs for feeding and housing the animals, as well as steep annual increases in zoo liability insurance premiums.
“The gate alone won’t cut it,” he said.