Put Me In The Zoo: Charles Paddock Review https://charlespaddockzoo.org/ Date of visit: May 31, 2015 Does this zoo satisfy the reviewer’s Inner-3-Year-Old by featuring his lifelong favorite animals, giraffes and elephants? Nope. This entire 5-acre zoo would fit in the footprint of many modern elephant or giraffe exhibits. This zoo features mostly medium and small animals appropriate to the scale of the facility. An iteration of their master plan did include okapis as a future possibility, but I don’t know if this is still in the works. The Charles Paddock Zoo is located on the Central Coast of California in the town of Atascadero. It is the only AZA accredited zoo between Santa Barbara and San Jose. The main exhibit in the zoo is a paddock named Charles. Or possibly not. The zoo is named after a former park ranger named Charles Paddock who started rescuing injured wild animals in 1959 and kept at it until he had hundreds of animals and had inadvertently started a zoo. The current zoo facility was developed in 1963. Does this zoo have any animals that would excite a zoo aficionado? This zoo has the only Pacific fisher that I know of in a Californian zoo. Other potential rarities as of May 2015 are red-flanked duiker, curl-crested aracari, and Chinese line-necked turtle. The zoo has an eclectic collection including Malayan tiger, king vulture, fossa, white-eared titi monkey, red panda, Caribbean flamingos, crested screamer, red river hog, meerkats, ring-tailed lemur, axolotls, Inca terns, and a partridge in a pear tree. Does this zoo have any immersion exhibits that would impress a zoo aficionado? Nope. Does this zoo have any good basic exhibits? The zoo actually has several good exhibits. The lemur exhibit is large and very leafy and green. The spider monkey exhibit is tall, well planted, and well furnished; as are the duiker, fossa, and fisher exhibits. The flamingo exhibit is large and green. The overall zoo grounds are very park-like. Shade trees and vegetation create a lush and pleasant environment. Does this zoo have any exhibits that should be bulldozed? This zoo was built in 1963 and much of it still looks like it is in 1963, despite the obvious hard work of the staff to upgrade the exhibits to modern standard. Many of the exhibits are well furnished with enrichment items and nicely planted on their insides, but are surrounded by dense and ugly wire, bars, or chain-link fencing. These barriers make viewing of the animals difficult, photography impossible, and leave an unpleasant aesthetic aftertaste. The Malayan tiger is in a well-furnished exhibit with a pond and mini-jungle, but the cage is way too small by modern standards (although to be fair it isn’t a lot smaller than several other California zoo tiger enclosures). I talked with a keeper who said that a new tiger exhibit is a priority after they finish the new panda exhibit in 2016, which is good. The zoo has several frog species and axolotls in an amphibian exhibit, which is basically a shed full of fish tanks. The window into the shed is almost impossible to see through because of glare and this whole complex is a mess. There are several small, ugly exhibits scattered around the zoo that clutter it up. Several of them have been removed over the years, but several remain. Does this zoo have any elements that make it particularly family friendly? The small size of the zoo makes it very appealing to families with small children based on all of the families seen during my visit. There is a barnyard area with alpacas, sheep, and turkeys. Glass walls around the meerkat exhibit make viewing easy for kids. I observed a keeper making an extra effort to show a kid the fisher and patiently and kindly answer his questions. The staff members of the zoo at the gate and in the gift shop were impressively friendly. Does this zoo have any interesting plans for the future? The zoo has a new red panda exhibit in the works that is due to open in 2016. Plans of their website look immersive and impressive and would create the first 21st century exhibit for the Charles Paddock Zoo. They are also renovating their previously cluttered and outdated reptile area into a Madagascar themed zone for their radiated tortoises. I talked to a keeper and she said that they hope that the panda exhibit will stimulate development of the zoo, especially a new tiger exhibit. The zoo has a master plan themed around biodiversity hotspots. The image released from the plan showed Indo-Pacific, African Forest, Andes, Madagascar, and California themed zones. Species and exhibits featured in that master plan map that would be new to the zoo included okapi, pygmy hippo, spectacled bear, a sturgeon aquarium, sifakas, and gibbons, along with new exhibits for tigers, fossa, and lemurs. The plan looked wildly ambitious given the obviously limited resources of the zoo, but with determination and hopefully a zoo-loving zillionaire donor or two maybe they can realize some of it. I’m cheering for them. Would a zoo aficionado like this zoo enough to go out of his or her way to visit it? Frankly this is a dinky zoo with an interesting small collection in a combination of good, mediocre, and bad exhibits. At 5 acres it can be visited pretty quickly. Casual zoo visitors probably wouldn’t go out of their way to see it. Zoo aficionados who want to see a fisher may find the trip worthwhile. Atascadero is located about half way between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, so the Charles Paddock Zoo could make a nice rest stop on a road trip along the California coast. The zoo obviously is working hard to be a recreational and educational resource for their local community. They have beautiful grounds and the bones of an interesting animal collection that could make a very interesting conservation-oriented zoo someday.