America’s Teaching Zoo

Just north of Los Angeles lies a unique zoological experience. America’s Teaching Zoo is located on the campus of Moorpark College and is a part of the Exotic Animal Training and Management (EATM) Program, established as a major in 1974. Under close faculty and staff supervision, students enrolled in the program are responsible for the around-the-clock care, feeding and well-being of the nearly 200 animals on the five acre site in the center of campus. Animals which have made the zoo home (ranging from exotic to domestic), were acquired through donations and breeding loans from major zoos and research centers. An injured bald eagle is just of one many unique inhabitants.

The 21-month certificate program is rather unique. According to the school’s website, “The EATM program at Moorpark College is really the only ‘hands-on’ program that teaches how to train exotic (and domestic) animals.” Graduates go on to work in places such as Universal Studios, Sea World, San Diego Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo and other world-class attractions. Others find themselves as Zoo Keepers or Wildlife Educators and many will train animals and work for companies like Animal Actors of Hollywood. “Almost any time you see an animal on TV or in film, one of our EATM graduates is working behind the scenes,” says the school. The program is so well-respected that many companies contact EATM first when openings become available.

The passion and dedication the students have for their field translates into the feeling you get as a visitor. A word of advice; set your expectations accordingly. Although there are a few shows and feeding times offered throughout the day, this is a college campus and a teaching zoo. There are no rides, gift shops, or fancy tram. The layout is compact, but well-worth the visit.A 45-minute behind the scenes tour is offered for just a few dollars more. The two guides that narrated my tour could not have been more enthusiastic or knowledgeable and provided a memorable experience. Your guides will take you into the zoo’s commissary where meals are prepared for the animals. You get to go behind the fence for an even closer view and see animals that are not visible from the main pathways. A one-on-one feeding opportunity and interactive game were also be a part of the tour.

Plan for about a two hour stay and schedule your visit around the shows and feeding times listed on the zoo’s website. If you take the tour (again… HIGHLY recommended), add on an additional hour. While nowhere near as grandiose as other zoos in Southern California, America’s Teaching Zoo offers a rare experience and the ability to actually see animals up close without crowds.