Central Coast Living: Charles Paddock Zoo

Hey there every peoples!

Been a long time since I put up a post. First I got bronchitis which crippled me for a while. And then the girlfriend came and visited. Now that she has left I do have some down time to write (though I do miss her something fierce). Today’s post is inspired by her visit. She really liked it here on the Central Coast and was sad to go. So I am starting these posts to help explain why the Central Coast is so unique, why I love living here, and why I want to give back to it by founding a museum here. So I wish to start this series with what has been an integral part of my life here: The Charles Paddock Zoo.

The only zoo between Santa Barbara and San Francisco, the Charles Paddock Zoo was established in 1955 by, you guessed it, Charles Paddock. Mr. Paddock was a park ranger running a shelter to rehabilitate wildlife. By 1959, he had over 125 animals in his care. Because of the growing collection of animals, the zoo was moved from the County animal shelter to its present location in Atascadero Lake Park. For a while it carried the title of “Atascadero Children’s Zoo” but in 1980 the name was changed to “Charles Paddock Zoo” to commemorate its founder.

Today it is a fully accredited zoo home to over one hundred animals in a five acre section of the park. While small they do display a wide variety of animals ranging from hissing cockroaches and pond turtles to monkeys and pigs. One of the newest critters to join the zoo is Menderu, a two year-old Malayan tiger born at the San Diego Zoo. He came here last fall after the zoo’s previous tiger died for some reason after some exploratory surgery. Now here are a few of the other animals who call this fun little place home:

Inca tern

Mara, or Patagonian Cavy

Gila monster

The zoo may not seem like much to most people, but it has heart. They are involved with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan. They also run many education programs to teach both young and old about animals and the perils they face (in fact, we caught a presentation by a member of a summer camp where he talked about the Zoo’s two Prevost’s squirrels. He didn’t just talk about the species but also about the two individual animals. Maybe someday kids will be doing the same with brontotheres and Mayan monuments). And they really do want to make the best of their small space to make it as comfortable as possible for the animals and intriguing as possible for visitors. They have formulated a master plan that would leave little of the original zoo intact. They will expand the zoo a few acres and give it a massive overhaul:

The Charles Paddock Zoo as we see it today

What the Zoo might one day become

Their goal is to organize the zoo based on five of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots: California Floristic Province, Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands, Indo-Burma, Guinean Forests of West Africa, and Tropical Andes. Some current animals would return (tigers, red river hogs, marmosets, Channel Island fox) with plenty of new ones moving in (tapirs, gibbons, okapi, pygmy hippo, sifakas). The first phase of this very ambitious plan is Indo-Burma. Renderings at the zoo’s website show that Indo-Burma will recreate the many ruins found in Southeast Asia with modern Asian architecture. Animals planned to occupy Indo-Burma include Sumatran tigers, gibbons, red pandas, mouse deer, and assorted reptiles.

It sounds very exciting but it’s uncertain how long it will take to become reality. Funding for these sorts of things is always hard to come by, especially in this economy. They are currently improving the bathrooms and building a new Admission building and gift shop. I wish I had some money to give them to help in their endeavor. I have always loved visiting that zoo and still do today. It goes to show that you don’t have to be a big fancy zoo to help teach people about wildlife and conservation. If I ever get my museum off the ground, I hope to help promote the zoo in its media. You know, something along the lines of “Want to learn about life today? Visit the Charles Paddock Zoo, just up the highway in Atascadero!” How’s that sound? Of course I would actually need a museum to do such a thing. Let us hope for the best, not just for my idea, but for one of the great jewels of the Central Coast: The Charles Paddock Zoo.

Till next time!