Eco-tip: Moorpark, Santa Barbara zoos connect people to environment

Last month, I asked a neighbor if he planned to attend any local Earth Day events. Perhaps in explanation of his lack of interest, he responded, “Shouldn’t every day be Earth Day?”

On his next birthday, I plan to tell him, “I thought of giving you a gift today, but shouldn’t people celebrate each other’s lives every day?”

April's flurry of Earth Day events is over, but for some whose job involves environmental work, Earth Day does come every day. Zoos are one place where environmentally beneficial work continues throughout the year.

Ventura County residents are lucky to have two local zoos. One, America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College, is convenient for residents of the county's east side. The other, the Santa Barbara Zoo, is just a short drive away for residents of the west side.

Last month, both zoos hosted special programs celebrating Earth Day and both have ongoing programs for species conservation and environmental education.

The highlight of Earth Day activities at America’s Teaching Zoo was the release of over 500 Palos Verdes blue butterflies. This species, once thought to be extinct, has been brought back from the brink and Moorpark College students are contributing to the recovery.

Also, hundreds of children attended an Earth Day craft event at the zoo in Moorpark. Kids converted water bottles into decorative flowerpots and planted seeds.

“These activities fit into our year-round mission,” said Mara Rodriguez, the zoo's development coordinator. “That is, to inspire conservation action by providing engaging connection with wildlife and those who care for them.”

Earth Day activities at the Santa Barbara Zoo focused on education. UC Santa Barbara students staffed booths near animal exhibits, administering quizzes about the nearby educational signs. Participation prizes included reusable sporks and “Earth Day All-Star” animal cards with explanations of how kids can have “Earth Day every day.”

The advice includes things they can do at the zoo year-round to learn more about animals and things everyone can do at home to preserve wild habitats. The cards also direct readers to learn from the “what you can do” information listed on signs at nearly every exhibit. These signs identify the animal, its natural habitat and examples of what zoo patrons can do to help those animals in the wild.

At the gorilla exhibit, the sign explains the importance of recycling your old cell phone. “By recycling your cell phone and other small electronics in our ECO-CELL drop boxes, you can reduce the need for materials mined in and around gorilla habitat.”

At the zoo’s penguin pool, the sign says, “Choose sustainable seafood: There are only so many fish in the sea… Pick up a Seafood Watch card at either of the Zoo’s restaurants: it will help you make good choices for you and our oceans.”

On the rail overlooking the gibbon island, the sign explains a problem with palm oil: “Indonesian and Malaysian forests are being cut down to create more farmland for palm oil, causing habitat loss for many animals. Choose treats made without palm oil, or that contain sustainably produced palm oil.”

Some people might express concern about animals in captivity, but it has been many years since American zoos have been in the business of capturing wild animals for display. Animals in modern zoos are generally not capable of living in the wild. Many at the Moorpark zoo were rescued from owners who had them illegally as pets, and most animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo were born to other animals in zoos.

America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College, 7075 Campus Rd. in Moorpark, is open Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with Wildlife Education Shows at noon and 2 p.m. (805) 378-1441

The Santa Barbara Zoo, at 500 Ninos Dr. in Santa Barbara, is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with earlier closure on holidays and for special events. (805) 962-5339.

David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at (805) 658-4312 or

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Eco-tip: Moorpark, Santa Barbara zoos connect people to environment