Southern California has some great places to see zoo animals – like the L.A. Zoo and the San Diego Zoo – but sometimes, those big institutions can be overwhelming for youngsters. All that walking, all those people! Here’s a list of smaller Southern California zoos where you can check out all kinds of furred, scaled and feathered critters at a calmer pace.
Exotic Animal Training and Management School at Moorpark College (http://zoo.moorparkcollege.edu/) has a training zoo that’s open to the public on weekends for tours. More than 130 animals (jackals, alligators, monkeys, etc.) help students prep for an animal career; students put on animal shows and present animal demonstrations. Opt for a Behind the Scenes Tour where you’ll see how students prepare meals, play with big cats and inspire exotic birds to sing.
The Exotic Cat Breeding Compound in Rosamond (www.cathouse-fcc.org/) offers a chance to wander the shaded grounds and see large cats that have been rescued or part of an international breeding program to save endangered wildcat species. Docents will answer all questions about these impressive cats from Africa, Asia and North America. There is a small gift shop and, surprisingly, peacocks strutting around.
The Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar (www.wildlifelearningcenter.com) has 70 species of animal residents — fenix foxes, two-toed sloths, dart frogs, etc. — and many act as animal ambassadors, educating groups about their species. Animals were either rescued or bred in captivity. The Center is open daily and welcomes school groups, scouting expeditions and birthday parties.
Big Bear Alpine Zoo in Big Bear (www.bigbearzoo.org) cares for orphaned and injured animals, rehabbing and releasing what they can and housing the rest. Located on 2 ½ acres, the zoo features circular paths lead up hills, over bridges and behind caged areas. About 85 species of animals live here, including bald eagles, black bears, raccoons and skunks.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro (www.cabrillomarineaquarium.org )has tanks of jellyfish, sharks, lobsters and more at kid-eye level. A darken hallways illuminates other aquatic creatures. There’s a tide pool touch tank, microscopes for peering into and a dress-up station where you can transform into a starfish or seahorse.