Notes from a Neighbor
Santa Ana Zoo

If you haven’t been to the Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park in a while, you might not recognize the new and improved version. With a redirected focus on the South American Continent, including the pampas of Argentina, the majestic Andes Mountain range and Brazil’s spectacular Amazon Rain Forest, the Zoo now offers a mosaic of surprising experiences and educational opportunities.

A number of new exhibits, amenities and improvements at the Zoo have created a one–of–a–kind experience for visitors. Animal enclosures at the Zoo are larger and more representative of the natural habitats to which the various species belong. And in some cases, landscape treatments are as satisfying to view as the animals themselves!

The new Tierra de las Pampas showcases and preserves one of the most highly endangered habitats in the world. This multi–species, grassy sweep of open space features anteaters, guanacos and Rheas. Recent visitors to the exhibit experienced the thrill of watching a giant anteater give birth to a media–celebrated baby.

Amazon’s Edge, soon to be seen in the new Disney Film “Old Dogs,” is one of the Zoo’s premier spaces. Here, a dramatic waterfall tumbles into a large lake on an island setting that echoes the jungle islands of Brazil. Howler monkeys swing from skyward branches while Mallard ducks and black–necked swans cruise by the ever–watchful eyes of crested screamers. A large bamboo observation deck cantilevers over the lake, providing observers sweeping views of a faraway land.

Amazon Aviary is a favorite interactive adventure that begins with guests passing through double–doors into an enclosed landscape of boulders and bubbling creeks, featuring intersecting leaf forms and color variations, from long and narrow to broad and full. Exotic birds such as the white–bellied caique, the scarlet ibis, the emerald toucanet and the blue–crowned mot–mot share ponds with sleek black turtles that dry–dock on flat stones and soft earth shores. Many of the birds display very different life patterns, behaviors and foraging techniques.

The Crean Family Farm offers visitors the opportunity to touch and feel animals and see how they interact with humans. Children are often delighted to see the real–life versions of their favorite cartoon characters.

Also at the Santa Ana Zoo is the Zoofari Express, the famous train that served for 43 years at Santa’s Village in Skyline, California. The 6 ½–minute ride on the Express is a good way to traverse the Zoo and get a good overview. You also don’t want to miss the Conservation Carousel, which features endangered animals and teaches children about the value of environmental conservation. A collector card is given to each rider that describes an animal and why it is endangered.

Other improvements at the Zoo include a patio lunch terrace and a new concessionaire, Knollwood Hamburgers. The lunch terrace is just inside the entry, near the gift shop, and impossible to miss. A secluded amphitheater is also entrance handy. There, animals can be shown for educational purposes or corporate or private parties can enjoy music and stage entertainment in a private environment.

New landscape treatments at the Zoo add a level of environmental sophistication. Largely the work of the Zoo Director, Kent Yamaguchi, the improved landscape is a perfect example of how important a sensitive eye can be! Large boulders, succulents and cacti located even in remote parking areas help create excitement and anticipation.

And, of course, no story about the Zoo could be written without a mention of the 50 monkeys that are the backbone of the Santa Ana Zoo! As a matter of legal contract, 50 monkeys must reside at the Zoo at all times. Without them, the land could legally return to the family that endowed such a great gift to Santa Ana and the Orange County community.

The Santa Ana Zoo may be small, but it offers colossal entertainment. Visit and experience the wonders of South America right in your own backyard.

Santa Ana Zoo
1801 East Chestnut Avenue, Santa Ana, CA 92701 / 714-647-6575

Notes from a Neighbor: The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park

Published in the Jul/Aug 2011 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Don Cribb, Photograph by Jeanine Hill

Don Cribb served on the Santa Ana planning commission for eight years, is currently sitting on the Environmental and Transportation Advisory Committee and is the President of the Santa Ana Council of Arts & Culture.

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