I couldn’t be more excited about the progress we’ve made in the construction of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s new Condor Country exhibit. It really is coming along – to the point that we are ready to receive birds.
The exhibit’s rockwork are really works of art. We took fabricators from out to the Sespe area to see the type of cliffs where the wild condors nest. They took pictures and have managed to capture the distinctive coloration of that area. I told the the fabricators to get good pictures of the rockwork now, before it gets added coloration – in the form of condor whitewash!
The rockwork “cave” has three small jagged-framed windows that the public can use to view birds inside or near the entrance. The rest of the exhibit is viewed through mesh, from upper viewing area on two different levels, and from the boardwalk below, looking up the hillside. The inside of the exhibit is quite steep and we’ve had to stabilize soil prior to landscaping to keep it in place during the winter rains. We’ll remove the erosion prevention material before the birds get in the exhibit – though it is biodegradable, the birds could mess with it in a variety of ways.
One 25-foot and one 35-foot fabricated snag have been installed and the existing oak and redwood trees have been pruned. These, along with the rock work elements, provide for a variety of perching opportunities while still allowing significant glide paths. All the exterior stainless steel mesh is installed, having been hand “sewn” in place by workers. The structure supporting the mesh is exterior to the exhibit, making all the walls “elastic like” and without hard elements.
The new condor holding area has two large rooms that are ready for their new residents. We’ve made sure that the spaces are as flexible as possible, to give us plenty of options for facilitating introductions (through mesh openings) and managing the birds with the exhibit. There are actually two management spaces attached to the exhibit that will provide us with ample management flexibility.
The California Trails area, that the condors are a part of, also features other local endangered species, such as the Channel Island fox. Their renovated exhibit is on a steep hillside and is actually comprised of two separate outside spaces. They may have been hard to spot in the old, shady exhibit space – but their new space should provide them with comfortable spaces that are also very visible. We will continue our breeding program for these foxes, found only on the islands off the Santa Barbara coast, visible from our Zoo’s hilltop.
Our bald eagles will also have a renovated exhibit to return to. Today as I was walking through, workers were pruning the huge trees in the exhibit (and they sure did need it). One of our eagles likes to perch up high, and this will give him even more places to land. It will also be sunnier and allow for more air flow in and around the exhibit. Both of our eagles suffered injuries in the wild that have eliminated the possibility of returning to their native habitat.
The curbs for the walkways have all been poured and the adjacent new desert tortoise exhibit space is taking shape. We’ve decided to add some large lizard species to the exhibit, so we curved the exhibit walls inwards and smoothed them to keep the critters from escaping.
Construction is underway on several prefabricated exhibits for a small building once used for desert reptiles. The new exhibits showcase endangered amphibians found in the Los Padres National Forest, such as the red-legged frog. We’re involved in the conservation programs of these species and wanted the public to be able to see them.
Rich Block, our Zoo CEO, liked the rockwork on the condor exhibit so much, he asked workers to create some rocks on the exterior of this exhibit as well, tying it visually to the rest of the exhibit.
Our opening date for California Trails is tentatively set for Wednesday, April 22 – Earth Day. I’ll post a few times so you can follow our progress.
Alan Varsik, Assistant Zoo Director
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