SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Zoo has opened more than three acres of wildlife adventure, all with one goal: to encourage Wildlife Explorers to learn about nature, actively play, encounter new species and develop an empathy for wildlife.
Vanessa Nevers, architect for the zoo, created every aspect of Wildlife Explorers Basecamp to bring visitors closer to nature through interactive play.
Wildlife Explorers Basecamp is built on the site of the historic Children’s Zoo. The area includes eight buildings, oversized species-themed sculptures, multiple immersive play areas and a floating, seven-foot-high stone globe, which rotates on a thin layer of water. The globe is made of quartzite (Azul Macaubas), found in Brazil, with white and bluish tones.
The area also has four different habitat zones: desert dunes, wild woods, marsh meadows and rainforest.
Brett Baldwin is the associate curator of herpetology & ichthyology. His love of reptiles began when he was a boy and has lasted decades. He believes getting kids involved in conservation will protect the future.
“They can see all these things here and inspire them,” he said. “I guess that’s the key word is to inspire and ignite. But it starts young. It’s very important to get that fire lit young. And I believe that’s what happened to me.”
Basecamp also aims to help people get over certain fears: The Spineless Marvels exhibit dives into the amazing world of insects.
Paige Howorth is the curator of invertebrates and believes seeing less intimidating species, such as the Giant Leaf Insect, will help people understand and appreciate all insects.
“It’s pretty easy to love a leaf insect. They’re very gentle, they don’t bite, they don’t sting,” Howorth said. “We designed this to try to allay some of those misgivings and some of those fears.”
The new habitat is designed to appeal to all age groups, especially families. Some of the animals in basecamp include tortoises, ocelots, burrowing owls, fennec foxes and dwarf crocodiles.