Wildlife Experiences for Los Angeles Kids

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By the time they reach their first birthday, most LA kids have been to at least one zoo. Locally, there is the weekday favorite, the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park. Some of us even venture to parts north (especially on scorcher weekends) to enjoy the Santa Barbara Zoo, home to temps that typically run at least 20 degrees cooler than those of the LA Basin. We’re fortunate that our little slice of the universe has two world-class zoos within an easy drive for most of us. We even have the famous San Diego Zoo, just a two-hour’s drive south.

While zoos are cool places to explore, maybe your little monkeys would like to get a little more personal with some of their favorite furry friends.

Perhaps one of the best parts about living in SoCal is that we can get an up-close-and-personal view of our native wildlife in so many different ways. Foothill residents often are greeted by California mountain lions or brown bears searching for food and water. In the valleys, it’s pretty common to spot red-tailed hawk soaring over the suburbs, and the whining of coyotes can be heard in the later parts of the evening. All of this wildlife has inspired some great organizations to open rescues, teaching zoos and education centers—all focused on helping to preserve the animal populations while providing the public with some really cool learning opportunities.

If you’re ready to take a walk on the wild side and bypass the traditional zoo, try exploring these innovative animal sanctuaries.

Wildlife Learning Center
This nonprofit, located in the northern San Fernando Valley, rescues local wildlife and provides education and outreach to the community. The facility is open to the public year-round, and tours are led by staff biologists. The center’s staff members also go to schools and other organizations to teach people about the more than 70 species of animals that reside at the center. Before a showing of Disney’s “African Cats” last year at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, members of the Wildlife Learning Center staff brought live African felines on stage and took audience questions. Scout groups, school groups and families are welcome to explore the center, rain or shine. You can even have your kid’s birthday party at the property. The center also offers winter and summer camp programs for aspiring zoologists.

Admission: Adults, $6; children and seniors, $5; kids two and under are free.

16027 Yarnell Street
Sylmar, Ca 91342
(818) 362-8711.
Online: www.wildlifelearningcenter.com

America’s Teaching Zoo – Moorpark College
Imagine spending your birthday as the star of your own animal show! At America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College, the birthday kid gets to work with animal trainers in a special presentation for his/her party guests. The cost for birthday parties at the zoo is surprisingly low (just $150 for up to 40 people). The cost includes all-day admission for your guests to the zoo, plus a private show (starring your birthday child). Picnic tables are available and you can bring your own food.

You also can visit this supercool zoo any weekend (Saturdays and Sundays). The community college’s Exotic Animal Training and Management Program trains students to work with animals in a variety of settings, including zoos, amusement parks, animal training and pretty much anywhere animals are involved. The zoo, which is run exclusively by the program’s students, is home to more than 200 animals. So, pack up the kiddos, head to Moorpark (near Ventura) and explore the grounds, visit the animals and take in a live-animal show (each weekend day at 12:00pm, 1:00pm and 3:00pm; plus, you can watch the carnivore feeding at 3:30pm — all included in the price of admission).

Admission: Adults, $5; children and seniors, $4 (cash or check only).

7075 Campus Road
Moorpark, Ca 93021
(805) 378-1441
Online: www.moorparkcollege.edu

–Robin Heinz Bratslavsky