Gabriel Ligon wants to help the planet, one exotic animal experience at a time

Gabriel Ligon’s love for animals started with chickens. At just 3 years old, his grandfather gifted him a homemade egg incubator.

“I started hatching chicken eggs and filming it with my parents’ old VHS recorder,” he recalls. “Then, I had lizards and pigeons. And then from there, it evolved into a love for wild animals.”

At 18, Ligon began working at a wildlife hospital in Livingston, Louisiana. He studied animal sciences at LSU and volunteered in Costa Rica. Eventually, he decided to leave LSU during his sophomore year to open Barn Hill Preserve after purchasing an acre of land from his grandfather in Ethel, Louisiana.

Today, Barn Hill has grown to over 100 acres. Ligon serves as its CEO.

The sanctuary offers rare experiences with over 75 different species of exotic animals, like swimming with otters and picnicking with giraffes. Ligon’s passion project has grown into a place where people see animals they may have never encountered otherwise.

“I think it’s important for people to see animals in person, especially kids of lower household incomes,” Ligon says. “Some people claim that books are the best way, but whenever someone can see an animal up close and personal, it’s the best way to inspire them.”

At 31, Ligon still volunteers in Costa Rica as president of Kids Saving the Rainforest. This nonprofit rehabilitates injured animals, educates conservationists and assists wildlife. Ligon spends about a third of his year in Costa Rica and also travels to places like Australia for work.

“A spider monkey actually ripped my ear in half in Costa Rica, and I had 16 bites all over my body,” Ligon recalls from his first trip to the country. “But for some reason, I kept coming back each year because I just love Costa Rica.”

Ligon encourages everyone to help out in the conservation effort in any way that they can.

“A lot of people want to be a perfect conservationist,” he says. “They think if they can’t recycle perfectly, or maybe if they’re not vegan, they’re not doing things right. But it just takes everyone doing a little bit of the best they can.” barnhillpreserve.com

This article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of 225 magazine.