Santa Barbara Zoo’s “California Trails”
Construction on the Santa Barbara Zoo’s new California Trails exhibit complex is well underway and some areas of the Zoo have already reopened, including the boardwalk, restrooms, and a portion of the hilltop. Visitors can actually watch the new exhibits take shape from the boardwalk and from a new circular “North America Landing” area near the Zoo’s Barnyard.
All the excavating and grading on the new California condor exhibit (Condor Country) is complete, extensive retaining walls have been constructed and two-levels of walkways are established. The two condor holding buildings, located under the boardwalk, are nearly complete. Six major supports, three on the east side (as tall as 70 feet) and three on the west side are in place. They will eventually hold the nearly transparent mesh barriers for the 6,085-square foot enclosure (174,000 cubic feet). The water feature is complete and includes two separate streams and pools. Research shows that condors bathe in the wild, so we’ve given them that opportunity here as well.
We kept an existing oak and a redwood within the new exhibit and will soon install two 35-foot “snags” for perching. the condors will have one of the best views in our scenic area, with the Los Padres National Forest (part of their historic range) to the north, Andree Clark Bird Refuge below, the Pacific to the south, and the city of Santa Barbara spreading west and east. The condor enclosure also features a rockwork “cave” which visitors will be able to peek into, perhaps getting a very close up view of a condor. The cave will be decorated with traditional Chumash rock drawings, similar to those in the Painted Cave just a few miles away on San Marcos Pass. The Chumash have always revered the condor; the local Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians are among the many donors for this exhibit.
This is going to be a dynamic environment for the birds to exhibit different behaviors. They’ll be able to choose where they want to be: on the rockwork, in real trees or in the snags, or bathing in the pools below. They can spread their wings and glide within the exhibit. Specific birds for the Santa Barbara Zoo have not been identified, but the exhibit can accommodate up to six adult birds. There are no current plans for breeding, but how we manage the birds will depend on the individuals we receive and their specific goals within the California Condor Recovery Plan.
California Trails also exhibits other local endangered species such the Channel Island fox. Renovation of their enclosure continues, and we’ve expanded it to two hillside exhibits. A new California desert tortoise exhibit is also under construction. It was once the site of the playground – these creatures will make quieter neighbors for the condors. There are plans for us to exhibit several species of local endangered amphibians, including the red-legged frog, in an existing building within this area.We expect to open California Trails in March 2009 and look forward to connecting the 450,000 guests we get each year, most of whom live adjacent to condor country, with California condors. These birds have a very special conservation story and are incredible creatures. I can’t wait for them to arrive at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
–Alan Varsik, Director of Animal Programs and Conservation, Santa Barbara Zoo