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Our Mission

The Santa Barbara Zoo is dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and enhancement of the natural world and its living treasures through education, research, and recreation.


Santa Barbara Zoo
500 Niños Drive
Santa Barbara, CA 93103

Tel: (805) 962-5339
Info line: (805) 962-6310
Fax: (805) 962-1673


In 1896, a New England tea and coffee merchant,

John Beale, took a horseback ride from Pasadena to Santa Barbara

and liked what he found here.

He stayed to build a gracious home near the sea called Vegamar (Star of the Sea), with acres of landscaped gardens and a tall tower that became a familiar Santa Barbara landmark. His bride Lillian became mistress of the estate, and when Beale died, his widow married John H. Child.  In time, Vegamar was known locally as the Child Estate.

Mrs. Child was a strong-willed New England woman. She had been a gracious hostess at the social galas for which Vegamar was famous, and she became an equally gracious hostess to a community of “knights on the road,” homeless pensioners who lived in shacks on her property. Around 1935, a few men, victims of the Depression, stopped for awhile on Mrs. Child’s property. To the chagrin of local authorities she didn’t drive them off, but instead allowed them to settle there and eventually to build a permanent, self-policed community. She insisted on order and neatness, occasionally visiting them to inspect the premises, hand out advice and, on holidays, half dollars.

Later in her life, Mrs. Child was no longer able to maintain Vegamar in its accustomed grand manner. She offered her estate to the Santa Barbara Foundation, to be disposed of upon her death in such a fashion benefiting the community. The Foundation accepted her gift, and in 1947, took over the deed to Vegamar. Mrs. Child and her squatters remained in residence and the Foundation assumed responsibility for city and state taxes on the property.

Mrs. Child died in August 1951, and in 1952 the estate formally passed to the Foundation. At the time, 32 single men all over the age of 50 were living in the shanty village on the property; seven of them had lived there since 1935. Mrs. Child asked that the men not be made homeless as a result of her death, and the Foundation made no alteration in living arrangements at Vegamar, except to install a Westmont College student and his family in the main house as caretakers.

In September 1953, Foundation President Archie M. Edwards recommended the Foundation make the Child Estate a gift to the City for use as a park. The Trustees concurred, and in October 1953, Edwards presented the City with the deed to the Child Estate property. Edwards commented, “Since this is the 25th anniversary of the incorporation of the Santa Barbara Foundation, this might be considered a birthday gift in reverse.”

As the years passed, the main house itself was in bad repair, and the City decided it could not be used for any civic purpose. In July 1959, the city fire department burned down the 63-year-old pink stucco mansion. An observer at the fire, Park Superintendent Finlay A. Mackenzie, conceived the idea the property could be turned into an estate for children, with animals, gardens, and play areas. Mackenzie approached the Junior Chamber of Commerce with his suggestion, and a fundraising drive was launched. “Jungleville” would later cease to exist, but in keeping with Mrs. Child’s wishes, the three residents of the shanty village whose tenancy had begun during her lifetime were protected; they were moved into cottages on nearby public property.

In August 1963, the Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens opened its doors to the public and has continued to serve and fulfill this mission: preservation, conservation, and enhancement of the natural world and its living treasures through education, research, and recreation.



The Zoo employed 377 people in 2023 and is the 22nd largest employer in Santa Barbara South County (SBSC Chamber Magazine 2024).


A private 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation (tax id# 95-2268554), the Santa Barbara Zoo depends on the support of the community, not tax dollars, for operations and improvements. Most zoos are publicly funded municipal operations.

Land Area

Known as one of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres of lush botanic gardens overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and Santa Ynez Mountains.

Private Events

The Zoo is available for rental for events such as weddings, corporate events, birthday parties, and picnics.


There are more than 500 Zoo volunteers from special event helpers to Storytime readers to plant tenders, to more demanding animal care aides and docents. There are currently 50 volunteer docents who share their enthusiasm, knowledge, and appreciation of animals and the natural world with Zoo guests by providing interpretation and hands-on education.

Animals and Plants

The Santa Barbara Zoo is home to 393 animals representing 109 species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fishes, and invertebrates.

Thirty acres of lush botanic gardens feature formal gardens and lawns, native plants and trees, cacti and succulents, ornamentals, exotic species, and less formal plantings arranged throughout the park to recreate natural habitats.

Education Programs

The heart of the Zoo’s mission is education. Private, grade-appropriate lessons relating the California Science Standards are offered to school field trips. Multi-disciplinary, hands-on, and engaging programs are offered, ranging from the popular summer Zoo Camp to monthly programs for kids and adults.

Conservation Programs

The Santa Barbara Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a vital cooperative conservation program composed of American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) accredited partner zoos and aquariums. More than 200 different species are managed to maintain diversity among animals in human care and guard against extinction in the wild.

AZA Accreditation

The Santa Barbara Zoo has been accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) since 1982, three years before it became mandatory. We were the 51st accredited member and have been continuously accredited in subsequent reviews, which take place every five years. The Zoo’s accreditation was renewed on March 26, 2020.

Financial Information

Nonprofit Information

A private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (tax id# 95-2268554), the Santa Barbara Zoo depends on the support of the community, not tax dollars, for operations and improvements. Most zoos are publicly funded municipal operations.

Zoo Donors

As a private, nonprofit organization, the Zoo relies on contributions from individuals, organizations, corporations, and foundations to help maintain and improve the Zoo’s exhibits, facilities, grounds, and programs, and to support its general operations.

Zoo Board of Directors

Derek Shue, Chair
Jim Jackson, Vice Chair
Jesse Perez, Treasurer
Crystal Wyatt, Secretary
Mitch Avila, PhD
Alexandra Bongiovanni
Vince Caballero
Jessica Diaz
Eileen Dill
Ginni Dreier
Yvette Birch Giller
Sarah Berkus Gower

Brian Kerstiens
Tracy Krainer
Bob Looney
Robert M. Myman
Robyn Parker
Angela Sanchez
Dan Segna, DVM
Clark T. Stirling, Esq.
Betsy Turner
Brad Vernon
Karen Wintringham

Honorary Directors
William A. Brace
Arthur A. Henzell
Peter Jordano
Robert Kallman
Arthur R. Locker
Barbara Merritt

Director Emeritus
Edward R. McToldridge

Zoo Management

President/Chief Executive Officer
Rich Block

Chief Financial Officer
Greg Wilson

Chief Operating Officer
Aaron Marshall, PhD

Vice President of Animal Care & Health
Julie Barnes, BVSc, MSc

Vice President of Community Relations
Elaine Mah Best

Director of Advancement
Liz Hahn

Director of Animal Care
Rachel Ritchason

Director of Conservation & Science
Estelle Sandhaus, PhD

Director of Education
JJ McLeod

Director of Events & Guest Services 
Bridgett Burrows

Director of Facilities & Horticulture
Abelardo Landeros

Director of Food & Beverage
Brett Kufeldt

Director of Human Resources
Corinne Santini

Director of Marketing & Communications
Kevin Nuss

Director of Membership
Kimberly Kirkhart

Director of Retail Operations
Ross Reed Beardsley

Director of Safety & Security
Chris Briggs

500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103