Different Worlds Let’s go to the Zoo

By Michele Roest

People have always been fascinated by the shapes, sizes, and colors of exotic animals. Zoos have been depicted in wall carvings dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In the 1800s, zoos were kept by wealthy landowners who could afford to maintain them. American publisher and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst had a private menagerie; some of the old animal enclosures can be seen on tours of Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo County, and there are still over 100 zebras living on the property. Aquariums were invented in the 1800s to keep and observe colorful species of fish. Historically, the word “zoo” is an abbreviation for “zoological garden.”

Modern zoos and aquariums (sometimes called aquaria or oceanariums) continue to be magnets for people who enjoy learning about the natural world. Besides providing education and entertainment, zoos fulfill important conservation roles for wildlife. Some establish captive breeding programs for endangered species that may be introduced back into wild populations; others conduct veterinary research on animal diseases; and all share valuable information in conferences and publications. Zoos and aquariums also have important roles in public education and inspiring stewardship for wildlife in people of all ages. Here on the Central Coast, we have several zoos and aquariums to visit.In Ventura County, America’s Teaching Zoo, located at Moorpark College, is part of Moorpark’s Exotic Animal Training and Management program. Established in 1974, the program prepares students for careers as animal handlers and trainers in animal parks, zoos, and oceanariums, and for the entertainment and wildlife education industries. On weekends they are open to the public. Attractions include live wildlife presentations, animal training demonstrations, and feeding activities. On Halloween weekend, they host “Boo at the Zoo,” with Halloween costumes, animal trick or treats, and a parade. “It’s two full days of family fun,” says Mara Rodriguez, the zoo’s development coordinator.

Photo courtesy of Central Coast Aquarium Get eye-to-eye with the California’s aquatic diversity at the Central Coast Aquarium.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center is located on historic Stearns Wharf. This small marine education facility offers hands-on encounters with sharks, rays, sea stars, sea urchins, and anemones. The Sea Center participates in the White Abalone Restoration Consortium, a wide-scale effort to bring the endangered marine snail back from the brink of extinction. Temporarily closed for exhibit improvements, during construction their live marine animals will be housed at the Museum’s Mission Creek campus (also the location of the Central Coast’s only Planetarium). Look for the Stearns Wharf location to reopen in early 2022.

Photo courtesy of Central Coast Aquarium Decorator crabs do exactly that — they decorate! They use various things they find on the ocean floor to camouflage themselves. Velcro-like bristles on their bodies make for easy additions and adjustments.

No visit to Santa Barbara is complete without a visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo, founded in 1963. Known as one of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres of botanic gardens and is home to more than 500 animals in naturalistic habitats. The Santa Barbara Zoo participates in endangered species programs for the Masai giraffe, California condor, Channel Islands fox, and western lowland gorilla. The zoo’s Early Explorers program is California’s very first zoo preschool. “We are so proud to offer a truly one-of-a-kind outdoor preschool experience rich with hands-on learning,” said JJ McLeod, Director of Education at the Santa Barbara Zoo. “Children are surrounded by wildlife that they get to learn about, visit regularly, and develop a natural appreciation for their conservation! Where else do you get to hear the roar of lion while at school?”

The Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary is located in Summerland. The Sanctuary is a haven for 24 species of colorful, long-lived parrots including macaws, cockatoos, and African Grey parrots. Visitors enjoy the tropical atmosphere complete with lanai, pond, and waterfall. Director Jamie McLeod cheerfully greets visitors and offers entertaining live shows and educational workshops. The Sanctuary is open to the public for walk-in visitors and group tours.

Photo courtesy of Charles Paddock Zoo In terms of species diversity and endemism, the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot is one of the most biologically important regions of the planet. This Malayan tiger, named Menderu, was born in captivity in 2008. Tigers are long-lived — this one could live to be 20 or 25 years in its captive home.

In San Luis Obispo County, you can find the Central Coast Aquarium in Avila Beach. Monday through Wednesday they stay busy with school education programs; they are open to the public Thursday through Sunday. The facility is also available for events and birthday parties by reservation. Look for their “Sharks After Dark” and other special events such as the “Catch of the Central Coast” fundraiser.

The Charles Paddock Zoo is located adjacent to Atascadero Lake Park in Atascadero. Founded in 1955 by Charles Paddock, a wildlife ranger who nursed wounded animals back to health, the zoo has grown to house more than 100 animals on five park-like acres. Although small, it is fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Photo courtesy of Charles Paddock Zoo These American Flamingos greet visitors at the entrance to Charles Paddock Zoo.

Based in Paso Robles, Zoo to You brings animal ambassadors everywhere from classrooms to boardrooms. Zoo to You trains abandoned or injured animals that are no longer able to survive in their wild habitats to be ambassadors for their species. Zoo to You’s programs include exotic wildlife as well as animals native to North America. Their programs are available throughout Central and Southern California.

Ticket prices for these memory-making experiences are reasonable, so the next time you have a free weekend, say “Let’s go to the zoo!”

• America’s Teaching Zoo 7075 Campus Rd, Moorpark Open weekends from 11 am to 5 pm Tickets: Adults $9, Children and Seniors $7, members free For more: www.moorparkcollege.edu/teaching-zoo or (805) 378-1400

• Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center at Stearns Wharf 211 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Reopens early 2022 For more: sbnature.org/visit/sea-center

• Santa Barbara Zoo 500 Ninos Dr, Santa Barbara Open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm. Tickets range from $14.95 to $19.95 (plus parking) For more: sbzoo.org or  (805) 962-6310

• Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary 2430 Lillie Ave, Summerland Open Mon, Weds, Fri and Sat, 11 am to 3 pm Tickets range from $10 to $20 For more: sbbird.org or (805) 565-1807

• Central Coast Aquarium 50 San Juan St, Avila Beach Open Thursday through Sunday; check website for hours Tickets: Adults $8, children $5 For more: centralcoastaquarium.com or (805) 457-5357

• Charles Paddock Zoo 9100 Morro Rd, Atascadero Open daily 10 am to 5 pm Ticket prices range from $5 to $10 For more: charlespaddockzoo.org or (805) 461-5080

• Zoo to You conservationambassadors.org