Sunset Zoo reveals Nature Exploration Center


Many people who visit the Sunset Zoo find a place in which they can learn more about the natural world. In the last couple of months, the wildlife sanctuary has attempted to bring its visitors a more educational and inspirational experience.
In April, Sunset Zoo opened the John Woodard Memorial Gibbons Exhibit and introduced the Nature Exploration Center to the public on Sunday, June 3.
According to the zoo’s website, the exploration center houses an interactive distance learning lab, expanded educational offerings, a year-round gift shop and ticket booth, and provides space for private events.
For the zoo, the expansion has been a continuous project since 1998, when the zoo staff realized the need for the 15,500-square-foot structure.
“The Nature Exploration Center gives us state-of-the-art informal science education space,” said Scott Shoemaker, zoo director. “We can do more education programming, more varied programming, reaching more people. Our education programs are designed to try and inspire conservation of the natural world, so this space will help us achieve our mission.”
Shoemaker said the expansion also made economic sense, saying that he hoped the facility’s versatility would help the zoo recover the funds from their initial investment.
“It also has some multi-purpose spaces in it that can be rented for various activities, which should help generate revenue that will benefit the zoo,” he said.
The opening ceremony revealed the new additions to the general public and continued fundraising efforts.
“Because of the tie to the new facility, we’ve paired this evening with the public grand opening to offer donors and supporters a special sneak peek before we debut to the public the next day,” said Ella Casey, marketing and development officer at Sunset Zoo. “The event’s VIP reception will take place in the new facility and then general admission will be throughout the zoo. All Wine in the Wild guests will be invited to check out the new facility as they exit the zoo that evening.”
Wine in the Wild, which is an annual fundraiser hosted by the organization Friends of Sunset Zoo, has raised some of the revenue that funded the new expansions. Because of their extensive support, Wine in the Wild guests were invited to receive a behind-the-scenes look at the new additions.
“All the proceeds from this event since its inception five years ago are going to help support the new Nature Exploration Center,” Shoemaker said. “This event not only raises funds for zoo projects but also raises awareness of the zoo in the community as well as raises friends for the zoo.”
Although Friends of Sunset Zoo and the proceeds from Wine in the Wild have helped to bring about the new Nature Exploration Center, there have been other sources of income.
“The project has been funded through a combination of sales tax, donations and grants,” Shoemaker said.
With the ever-growing facilities, three new animals will be presented to the public within the coming months.
“A young snow leopard male is currently completing the quarantine process and should be viewable in the outdoor exhibit in June,” Casey said. “Barring a clean bill of health from the veterinarians, a Red-billed Blue Magpie should be out on exhibit early this summer following the completion of the quarantine process, and a male sloth bear has arrived to join the female, Thelma, after the initial 30-day quarantine process.”
All of these new additions to the zoo are beneficial for the zoo’s future longevity. Casey said the zoo would not exist without the extensive support the community has provided.
“We simply cannot thank the community enough for their steadfast support,” Casey said. “These facilities are truly a testament to their dedication to all things Sunset Zoo.”