Kiska the wolf was the first wild animal to roam the grounds at Moorpark College. She soon became part of the Exotic Animal Training and Management (EATM) Program. With the addition of landscaping and enclosures that mimic natural habitats, the program transformed into a 5-acre zoo with primates, coyotes, emus, and an African lioness. The zoo currently houses almost 135 animals and caters to students in the EATM. In addition to class work, they visit the zoo daily, learning how to train and care for exotic animals. Patrons can witness these interactions with the animals at the shows or during the animal demonstrations where student trainers present animals performing behaviors they have trained.
The nonprofit Wildlife Learning Center populates its ancient olive grove with more than 50 species from across the globe, teaching visitors the value of conservation while raising funds for wildlife sanctuary and public education through its Wildlife Learning Foundation. Alongside a circular walking path, a menagerie of animals, including lynxes, arctic foxes, kinkajous, and college sports mascots, frolics within landscaped enclosures. Throughout the afternoon, friendly biologists give training talks on the hour and facilitate up-close interaction with various critters. The zoo also hosts children's camps and birthday parties for precocious naturalists to ensure a future generation of nature-savvy citizens.
• For $74, you get a one-year Family Deluxe membership (a $149 value). Benefits include unlimited admission for either three adults and their children (ages 2–17) or two adults and their children plus one adult guest. Other perks include six one-day guest passes, three one-day Safari Shuttle passes, two Choo-Choo Train passes, and one free stroller rental.
At Ostrich Land, visitors quickly learn that ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand—they'd much rather bury them in a bowl of food that you hold out in front of you. They're also not fond of waiting their turn, and at any given moment, you might have four beaks dipping into your supply. The experience is a far cry from throwing bread at ducks or pigeons. These birds are the world's largest: they can reach up to 9 feet in height and weigh 350 pounds. At top speed, they hit 45 miles per hour on their massive, two-toed feet.
Having been raised around people and trained to eat from outstretched bowls, the park's 50 ostriches and emus welcome spectators from their savannah-like enclosure. They're also celebrities in their own right, with bit roles in the film Sideways as well appearances in a Santa Maria Times video feature and a tongue-in-cheek homage in an episode of The Simpsons. Dispensing the animals' supper is only one way in which guests can get close—a stop inside the gift shop reveals shelves of ready-to-cook ostrich and emu eggs, ostrich feather dusters, and savory ostrich meat shipped in from a separate farm not affiliated with Ostrich Land. Also in stock are vials of emu oil, a substance with anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties that can soothe the skin.
Like most of the 400-plus other creatures at Santa Barbara Zoo, Duncan runs, blinks, and growls. Unlike his fellow animals, however, Duncan isn't real. The life-like adolescent Tyrannosaurus Rex stars in the zoo's 15-minute stage show "How to Train Your Dinosaur," where zookeepers demonstrate the special care given to each actual animal. This compassion is on display throughout the 30-acre zoo, where critters such as female Asian elephants, California condors, and Chilean flamingos roam in open, naturalistic habitats.
Elsewhere on the grounds, guests can ride around the zoo's perimeter in replicas of C.P. Huntington trains from 1863, marvel at stunning Pacific Ocean views, or hand-feed domestic sheep and Baringo giraffes. More hands-on experiences are afforded through the zoo's behind-the-scenes packages, such as the Keeper for a Day program, where visitors work alongside pros as they train and clean up after animals. Along with the daily sights available during visiting hours, the zoo hosts events, camps for youngsters, and overnights, where participants can sleep beside the lion exhibit, across the street from the beach.
Classified as small apes, the endangered gibbon hails from Asia where it acrobatically launches itself across distances of up to 40 feet, easily leaping through trees or to the front of a long checkout line of holiday shoppers. At Gibbon Conservation Center, visitors can revel in up-close glimpses of more than 40 gibbons representing five different species. As visitors stroll through the grounds, they can listen to the musical mammals–known as the songbirds of the primate family–croon in high-pitched but melodic yawps. They can also learn about the 36-year old center's efforts to conserve the endangered primates through public education and conservation.
When animals are rescued from dangerous living situations or seized from the hands of smugglers, STAR Eco Station provides second chances at peaceful lives. The facility offers a haven for more than 200 rescued animals and educates the public as an environmental science museum. During public tours, guides lead guests through exhibits of rescued exotic animals, such as parrots, pythons, and wildcats, while explaining the habits, history, and New Year's resolutions of each creature.
The recipient of multiple awards from media and government agencies, STAR Eco Station also provides educational outreach programs to more than 40 California school districts and works in concert with conservation organizations such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Paw Project, and Heal the Bay.