PICTURED: Ira the Lion is just one of the many animal ambassadors that call America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College home. 

by David Goldstein

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?”

The April 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 eastern Ventura County. The other, the Santa Barbara Zoo, is just a short drive away for residents of western Ventura County. Last month, both zoos hosted special programs in celebration of 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 recovery. Also, hundreds of children attended an Earth Day craft event. Kids converted water bottles into decorative flower pots and planted seeds. 

“These activities fit into our year-round mission,” said Mara Rodriguez, zoo 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. During the week of Earth Day, zoo staff, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Institute for Wildlife Studies staffed booths to provide zoo visitors with educational material on field conservation programs. Students from the University of California, Santa Barbara, staffed booths near animal exhibits, administering quizzes about the nearby educational signs. Participation prizes included reusable sporks and “Earth Day All-Star” animal cards. On the back of the cards were explanations of how kids can have “Earth Day Every Day.” 

The advice includes things kids can do at the zoo year-round to learn more about animals and things everyone can do at home to preserve wild habitats. 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, the animal’s natural habitat and examples of what zoo patrons can do to help those animals in the wild. 

At the gorilla habitat, 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 zoo’s 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 animals at America’s Teaching 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, at 7075 Campus Road, Moorpark, is open Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., with Wildlife Education Shows at noon and 2 p.m. 805-378-1441. More information is online at www.moorparkcollege.edu/teaching-zoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo, at 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara,  is open every day, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with earlier closure for holidays and special events. 805-962-5339. More information is online at www.sbzoo.org

David Goldstein, Ventura County Public Works Agency Environmental Resource Analyst, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.