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27 years later, the Waccatee Zoo still holds up as a Myrtle Beach gem

“Do what you love and love what you do.”

That’s the advice of Kathleen Futrell, owner and operator of Waccatee Zoological Farm in the Socastee community of Myrtle Beach SC as she sits on the front porch of her 50-acre farm to visitors of her family-owned zoo that she has been running since October of 1988.

Situated on more than 50 acres, the Waccatee Zoo is well off the beaten path of the Grand Strand. A hidden jewel, the zoo has been entertaining guests from all over the country for 27 years now.

“It’s not like most zoos where it’s asphalt and concrete. No shade,” Futrell said. “We took into consideration our animals, our patrons, and it’s gone over real big because of that.”

The 500-plus acre site of the Waccatee Zoo has been in Futrell’s family for four generations. Kathleen, a retired schoolteacher and University of South Carolina graduate, and her late husband Archie have always had animals around.

“We had a lion that we got from somebody at the beach that was making pictures with it that we finished raising on a bottle,” Futrell said. “We had a cougar and a couple of ostriches that we got from Jim Fowler’s brother down in Georgia. It was just a private collection, and the teachers wanted to bring the kids to see the animals.”

Seeing an opportunity to turn their small private collection into a lifestyle, Archie Futrell brought the idea about to his wife.

“I was against it,” Futrell said. “ ‘Way out here?’ I said. ‘If we get anybody, we’ll be lucky.’ My husband said, ‘Well if we don’t get but 10 a week it’ll help feed our animals.’ Boy was I wrong,” Futrell said, gesturing to the full parking lot in front of the farm.

As fun as it sounds, owning a zoo with more than 400 animals isn’t all fun and games. Imagine having a puppy.  That’s a lot of work. Now imagine having 400 puppies.  It’s overwhelming, to say the least.

“24-hour care,” Futrell says regarding the responsibilities of running the zoo. “I live here, two of my employees live here.  When we close up at night we’re here with the animals.  We have vets on call anytime that we need them.”

Waccatee Zoo has stood the test of time, and continues to draw families from all corners of the world to experience their little piece of heaven.

Looking back, Futrell answers quickly when asked if the past 27 years have been worth it.

“Very much so,” she said, rocking back and forth in her rocking chair. “We both enjoyed it, and after I retired from schoolteaching, this became a second career for me. I enjoy coming to work every day.”