Paul A. BaribaultPresident and CEO of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliancealong with a group of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance team members, youth from across San Diego and Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, joined in a festive opening ceremony welcoming guests to the new Denny Sanford’s Wildlife Explorers Base Camp.
Built on the site of the former Petting Zoo, Wildlife Explorers Basecamp is a 3.2-acre, multi-ecosystem experience designed to give visitors of all ages an up-close look at nature and provide new high-tech interactive opportunities that nurture empathy for wildlife and encourage future stewards of the planet. Inside Basecamp, zoo guests will visit a variety of fascinating species and engage on a deeper level using comprehensive and multi-faceted sensory elements, including “parallel play” opportunities ranging from l climbing and crawling around a huge treehouse, to exploring through water play elements; experience interactive touchscreen games, use microscopes to reveal natural wonders, and specialized animation that uses artificial intelligence (AI), dynamic lighting, and scented environments throughout the room.
“Wildlife Explorers Basecamp speaks to the budding conservationist in all of us and shows us the wonders of the natural world,” Baribault said. “Through these doors, millions of world changers will begin their journey with nature and demonstrate the power of empathy and compassion by joining us in becoming allies for wildlife.”
Wildlife Explorers Basecamp includes eight buildings and habitats scattered across four zones, showcasing the wildlife that lives in these ecosystems: rainforest, wild woods, swamps, and desert dunes.
The Rainforest Zone is centered around the 10,000 square foot McKinney Family Spineless Marvels building, where guests will encounter invertebrates – including crustaceans, arachnids and insects – such as leafcutter ants, spiders, scorpions, stick insects and more. Inside, there’s a pollinator experience with giant beeswax-scented honeycombs and a viewing pane that gives guests the chance to see the workings of an actual hive. The projected migration flyover encounter features various insects, including migrating monarch butterflies, grasshoppers, and dragonflies as part of a large grassland scene that curves along the walls and encompasses a domed ceiling.
The Wild Woods area offers guests the opportunity to visit unusual wildlife species, such as coatis and squirrel monkeys, both of which are native to Central and South America. The space includes the remarkable Prebys Foundation Discovery Bridge and a 20-foot-tall Tree of Dreams – a tree house designed like an ancient oak tree. This dynamic and detailed natural play tree provides multiple access points for guests – from a suspension bridge and mesh tunnel to a spiral staircase – and a play experience parallel to the squirrel monkeys that live in the tree. adjacent habitat. Water features are another focus of this woodland-themed area, which includes a waterfall that tumbles into a gentle, meandering stream, an exhilarating wading pool, unpredictable water jets, and a cliff area with a rock run designed to encourage exploration.
Marsh Meadows aims to evoke the feeling of visiting marsh-like habitats, including swamps and estuaries. The trail through this area has been designed to make guests feel like they are inhabiting the swamp with the frogs, fish, and other wildlife that live there. The central core of Marsh Meadows is the Jake’s Cool Critters Building, funded by Art and Danielle Engel, a two-story herpetology and ichthyology structure with over 7,000 square feet of immersive environments, digital media, learning opportunities and educational classroom spaces, created to engage wildlife explorers of all ages. Wildlife here includes snakes, amphibians, crocodilians, turtles and lizards, including endangered Fijian iguanas.
At nearby Rady Ambassadors Headquarters, guests will meet wildlife from around the world, including a two-toed sloth and a prehensile-tailed porcupine, and learn about how everyone can help keep them alive. their original habitats.
Finally, Desert Dunes, a desert-themed dry area, offers fun bouldering vistas for climbing, scrambling, jumping, and more. Reptile carvings and petroglyphs can be found among the rocks, while cool caves offer shaded areas where guests can beat the heat, like their desert wildlife counterparts, including fennec fox, prairie dog and the burrowing owl. Conservation is at the forefront of the design of Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, as builders have worked to incorporate advanced sustainable materials throughout. Part of the Spineless Marvels building was made with ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) – a fluorine-based plastic that is created to be more resistant to corrosion. The system is 100% recyclable and consists of a series of multi-layered, custom-sized Teflon “air cushions” – which, when filled with air, provide solar insulation while reducing the need for lighting artificial. The zoo’s talented horticulture team worked to identify more than 100 trees from the previous habitat in order to preserve and replant them in Basecamp.