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Australia exhibit at Santa Barbara Zoo provides up-close experience in wildlife conservation

Western grey kangaroo SB Zoo
Beth Thornton
A Western grey kangaroo at the Santa Barbara Zoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo recently added an exhibit called the Australian Walkabout where visitors can enter the enclosure and walk among emus, kangaroos, and wallabies.

Rachel Ritchason, director of animal care, said the four Bennett’s wallabies are part of the Zoo’s Species Survival Plan, a cooperative conservation program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to save declining populations.

Ritchason said one example of how this can work is the California Condor.

“In the 1980s, the California Condors were down to just 22 individuals,” she said. “Those 22 individuals were brought into breeding facilities, and now there’s over 400 birds and more than half are flying free.”

If all goes as planned, Ritchason said there will be baby wallabies, called joeys, at the Zoo in the future.

The new exhibit was created in the space that formerly held the elephants. When the Zoo’s longtime resident elephants passed away, Ritchason said the Zoo made the decision not to replace them.

The space has been reimagined as an Australian habitat. Visitors enter the designated area and walk on a path to experience the animals without walls or barriers.

Ritchason said the Walkabout offers a special opportunity for guests to develop a deeper understanding and connection to wildlife conservation.

“We like to connect people to animals in appropriate ways that show off an animal's natural behaviors in habitats that are similar to those habitats in the wild,” she said.

There have been other recent successes among the Zoo’s endangered species with the births of an African lion, two Masai giraffes, and an Amur leopard.

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Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.
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