805 Focus: Santa Barbara Zoo

Nadya E. Seal Faith, Conservation & Science Associate, Santa Barbara Zoo

Conversation is a top priority for the Santa Barbara Zoo as part of their mission: “preservation, conservation, and enhancement of the natural world and its living treasures through education, research, and recreation.” As Conservation & Science Associate, Nadya connects the Santa Barbara Zoo to local programs in providing expertise for conserving California’s rich and unique biodiversity. For example, Santa Barbara Zoo works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on conserving the Southern California condor population, National Park Service for the red-legged frog and US Forest Service for the arroyo toad.

JJ McLeod, Director of Education, Santa Barbara Zoo

As a former teacher in the Santa Barbara Unified School district, JJ brings her educational passion to enhance the learning experience of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s 450,000 yearly visitors, everything from the way that information is presented on exhibits to the way staff communicates about animal welfare to guests. Around 22-25,000 school children visit the zoo every year for field trips alone. The zoo also hosts fun programs such as the overnight Safari Sleepovers, as well as the Early Explorers program (the first outdoor licensed preschool in California). 

Rachel Ritchason, Director of Animal Care, Santa Barbara Zoo

Rachel has been overseeing animal health and curation at the Zoo for 15 years and leading the Animal Care department since 2021, ensuring all inhabitants receive the highest quality, 24/7 upkeep. This encapsulates everything from nutrition, health checks and welfare assessments. The team aims to provide an enriching experience to keep their bodies and minds healthy and to elicit natural behavior. For instance, when feeding Marta, an Amur leopard who was born in the zoo, they set the meal up on a spring so that Marta can jump to retrieve it, as well as move the spring away to make her chase after it as she would in the wild.

Propped up peacefully on Rachel’s hand was Charlie, a 25-year-old red-tailed hawk and animal ambassador at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Charlie was found by a local resident when he was only a chick and shortly after taken to a local rehabilitation center, where he was reared with the intent to return him to the wild. After being unable to develop the desire to hunt, he moved into the Zoo, which has been his home for 23 years. He is an active participant of animal programs and experiences, visiting school groups and internal programs. Because of his friendly and calm nature, he is highly skilled in teaching new staff how to hold hawks, as he did for Rachel 15 years ago when she first arrived at the zoo.

Zoo collage (1)