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New San Diego Zoo exhibit connects kids with conservation

Photo taken on March 11, 2022 by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
Children join the opening ceremony for the San Diego Zoo's new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, March 11, 2022.

The San Diego Zoo opened its newest exhibit Friday morning.

Built on the site of the former Children’s Zoo, Wildlife Explorers Basecamp is a 3.2-acre state-of-the-art natural habitat with animals and insects everywhere.

New San Diego Zoo exhibit connects kids with conservation

The complex is targeted for educational entertainment — in particular, programs and personal contact with animals to encourage conservation and compassion for the environment.

“We’re excited to give all our audiences, especially the next generation, a better understanding of how connected we are,” said Paul Baribault, president and CEO of the San Diego Wildlife Alliance, which operates the zoo. “That helps them to understand that we need nature to be healthy," he said. "We need wildlife to be healthy for us to be healthy.”

The Basecamp project has been planned since 2015, and became the most expensive exhibit ever constructed at the zoo, with a price tag of $88 million. The cost was covered by donations from individuals and philanthropic organizations.

M.G. Perez
Danielle Miller visits the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp with her children. The 3.2-acre exhibit features habitats that include the rain forest, desert dunes, woodlands and marshlands.

Danielle Miller of La Mesa brought her four children to the zoo on Friday. She was unaware that the Basecamp was opening and excited to share the experience with her son and three daughters, whom she homeschools.


“It gives them a place to get out their energy so they can be focused more when we want to stop and learn something,” she said, “and it makes the learning fun like they can see the squirrel monkeys right here.”

The Millers enjoyed watching the family of squirrel monkeys, including three females, a male and a baby brought from another zoo for the new exhibit.

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Clint Lusardi, the wildlife care manager, has been an integral part of designing the Explorers Basecamp project. He supervises trainers who take ambassador animals out to schools and hospitals for education programs. He expects many more kids will now visit and benefit from this in-person experience.

“We want the children to be a child, not on their cellphones and iPads, and really get immersed in nature,” Lusardi said. After visiting, “they want to do more for the environment," he said. "They want to know how can I save these animals and the environments that they live in.”