If your exposure to Bay Area wildlife is limited to hot dog snatching seagulls or the occasional scraggly coyote, then chances are you need to get out more. Even though the grizzly bears adorning our state flag may have headed to greener pastures, California is still a wildlife wonderland — if Marc Benioff’s security cameras are to be trusted. Mountain lions, California Condors, and even glowing millipedes call the Golden State home, among so many other exceptionally interesting species.
To showcase the diversity of wildlife California hosts, and to fund conservation efforts to protect these same animals, the Oakland Zoo will open its brand new California Trail on Thursday, July 12. The zoo will almost double in size to accommodate the incoming critters, all of which live in enclosures much larger than the industry standard.
A wheelchair-accessible gondola takes guests up to the new-to-the-zoo animals, which include a family of black bears that were rescued from being euthanized, grizzly bears out of Alaska, three orphaned mountain lions, a pair of wolves — for the love of jeebus, please do not howl at them — bald eagles, California Condors, a jaguar — yes, they used to live here! — and a whole herd of bison, whose future offspring will return to the custody of the Blackfeet Native American community in Montana that was kind enough to provide the zoo with 14 bison in the first place. Even better, all of the new animals are presumably Warriors fans, so they’ll fit right in.
I had the chance to meet some of the critters that will be calling the Oakland Zoo home, and was very impressed with their enclosures, enrichment programs, and the billion-dollar view of the Bay Area they get to have. Much of the work I do is about ethical wildlife tourism, and I’m glad to say my skepticism was for nothing, as the zoo really has gone to every length to ensure the animals’ comfort.
The Zoo’s commitment (and follow-through) to conservation is unrivaled, and acquiring animals through rescue has saved many lives. Because of this, visitors to the zoo will have a much better grasp of the animals that live around them, and learn not only why it’s important to conserve wild habitats, but how to do so as well. The California Trail includes a brand new visitor’s center offering in-depth information on how to be a good steward of our shared environment, and encourages children (of every possible demographic) to consider a future in ecology.
With development and growth the talk of the Bay Area, the California Trail gives us a reprieve from urban-centered storytelling and reminds us of the animals we are lucky to share this state with. With a mass extinction well underway, there is no better time than now to learn about what the wild has to offer, and where our role is within it.
California Trail at the Oakland Zoo, opens Thursday, July 12, 9777 Golf Links Road, 510-632-9525 or oaklandzoo.org