Zoo will move conservation center to Camarillo campus

Western snowy plover. (Photo submitted)

The campus of California State University Channel Islands will soon be home to threatened and endangered local wildlife including western snowy plovers, California red-legged frogs and California condors.

University officials are teaming up with leaders of the Santa Barbara Zoo who plan to move their conservation center to CSUCI.

“By partnering with a world-class zoo right here in our backyard, we are strengthening our commitment to be a ‘conservation campus,’” CSUCI President Richard Yao said. “We are excited about the opportunities for our students to work side by side with zoo personnel and CSUCI faculty to protect and reestablish threatened species in

our region.”

A ceremony is planned for April 14 at the Santa Barbara Zoo where university and zoo officials will sign a memorandum of understanding to formalize the relationship. Zoo president Richard Block said the conservation center will be the first zoo-owned and managed facility ever accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums on a university campus.

“Through this alliance, we look forward to expanding our zoo conservation programs and providing a learning laboratory where students can assist in the important work of wildlife conservation, education, zoo management and marketing, animal husbandry, guest services, and more,” Block said. “The opportunities to align our programs and resources with CSUCI are limitless.”

A 60,000-square-foot site on the western edge of the CSUCI campus has been identified as the location where the conservation center will be built. The agreement calls for the university to lease the land to the zoo while the zoo will own the buildings and facilities.

The conservation center is planned as an interdisciplinary partnership, which will be utilized by students on academic paths unrelated to wildlife, and the collaborations are already getting underway. For example, students in a CSUCI Spanish program are translating materials for the zoo’s summer camps, and the university’s performing arts program is working with the zoo to develop live performances for zoo visitors.

The zoo’s Director of Conservation and Science Estelle Sandhaus said the facilities at the 28-acre zoo in Santa Barbara dedicated to conservation are too small to rehabilitate as many threatened and endangered critters as they would like to.

“It’s game-changing because it enables us to scale up what we are doing in terms of direct conservation interventions on behalf of species recovery,” Sandhaus said. “It vastly increases our capacity to take in and protect species during extreme weather events, which is something we are being called upon to do more and more often by our federal and state agency partners.”