Group Plans Open-Air Zoo for Endangered Species : Animals: The park and its rain forests are proposed for a 115-acre site between Moorpark and Simi Valley.


A nonprofit group announced plans Wednesday to open a first-of-its-kind zoo for endangered species in a quiet, dusty Ventura County park midway between Moorpark and Simi Valley.

Promising rain forests and virtual reality, Madagascan lemurs and Brazilian golden lion tamarins, proponent Mark Cartland told the Moorpark City Council of his plan to transform the scrublands of Oak Park, situated between the Simi Valley Freeway and Los Angeles Avenue.

The park could draw up to 250,000 visitors a year, said Cartland, president of the Endangered Species Zoological Society, the Los Angeles-based group set up specifically to build the 115-acre open-air zoo.

"We're interested in being a good neighbor and providing a facility that will be of maximum benefit to Ventura County residents," he said.

But Councilman Bernardo Perez chided Cartland for not bringing the plan to Moorpark officials sooner.

The Endangered Species EcoPark would be the first zoo in the nation to house only endangered species, according to the American Zoo and Aquarium Assn.

"There's many zoos with endangered species, but my understanding is his would be all endangered species," association spokeswoman Jane Ballentine said.

The rare animals would come from accredited zoos and aquariums worldwide, Cartland said Wednesday in an interview. "Obtaining the animals is not the greatest difficulty, raising the capital to build the project is."

Ballentine agreed, saying, "Building new exhibits is outrageously expensive." But the hardest part, she added, will be drafting plans for a zoo that works.

But a Santa Ana Zoo official who has been advising Cartland on her own time said the plans the society has drafted are feasible--even plans for a rain forest fed by drip irrigation and mist-sprayers.

"All you need is water," said Connie Sweet, general curator at the Santa Ana Zoo. "Our year-round mild temperatures allow us to do an awful lot with tropical species."

While aquariums and terrariums would have to be built for fish and insects, many of the animals would be uncaged, free to roam subtly fenced "Ecozones" landscaped to mimic their natural habitats, Cartland said. If the zoo is completed as planned, there would be zones for forest, grassland, desert and aquatic species.

Where possible, the zoo also would cultivate endangered species of plants, he said.

Other plans have a strong educational bent, such as video links from classrooms to the zoo's operating room, and a virtual-reality flight simulation that promises to let a child see through the computer-generated eyes of a California condor.

County schools Supt. Charles Weis said he has talked with Cartland about the zoo plan over the past six months, offering advice on meshing zoo programs with classes.

"I think it can provide a tremendous educational benefit to the children of Ventura County," Weis said. "We are a fairly large county, without a zoo, and this would give them multiple learning opportunities."

Cartland said the first phase of about 15 acres would probably include one Ecozone, the virtual-reality equipment and an interactive computer that would teach visitors on the politics of environmental causes.

But for now, Cartland said, the EcoPark is little more than paper, talk and about $130,000 the society has raised for planning. Millions more must be raised, he said.

And while Moorpark and Simi Valley officials weigh the zoo's potential effect on their cities, county officials say they are still hammering out details of a lease option on the Oak Park acreage, which makes up about half EcoPark's total area.

The society must maintain Oak Park's picnic areas and help make other arrangements for groups that meet there, said Robert Amore, lease development manager for the county General Services Agency.

The zoo plan goes to a public hearing Nov. 16 before the county Parks and Harbor Commission, which then will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, Amore said.

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