Who's Moving In?
By Wendy Campbell, Editor in Chief
ith the passing of Asian elephant Little Mac in September 2019, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s elephant program came to a close. After caring for elephants for 45 years, this was a particularly difficult goodbye for Zoo supporters, members, volunteers, staff, and for the entire Santa Barbara community.
“We know no new animal could ever replace Little Mac or Sujatha. When considering what species to put in that space, we tried to think outside the box and consider what would really excite our guests, as well as what animals we could provide excellent care for here in Santa Barbara.”

-RACHEL RITCHASON, DIRECTOR OF COLLECTIONS

Emus are tall, flightless birds and resemble their ostrich relatives
Who's Moving In?
By Wendy Campbell, Editor in Chief
ith the passing of Asian elephant Little Mac in September 2019, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s elephant program came to a close. After caring for elephants for 45 years, this was a particularly difficult goodbye for Zoo supporters, members, volunteers, staff, and for the entire Santa Barbara community.
Elephants drinking water
“We know no new animal could ever replace Little Mac or Sujatha. When considering what species to put in that space, we tried to think outside the box and consider what would really excite our guests, as well as what animals we could provide excellent care for here in Santa Barbara.”

-RACHEL RITCHASON, DIRECTOR OF COLLECTIONS

Emus are tall, flightless birds and resemble their ostrich relatives
Ostrich
Wallabies are one of the species being considered for the possibility of an Australian species exhibit.
As the ever-changing standards for elephants under human care continue to grow, Zoo staff anticipated that the future was going to look very different. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), who oversees our accreditation, established that elephants must now be kept in herds of three or more – a requirement that is not feasible in the space we have. So, no more elephants, but who’s moving in?

You may think that turning a former elephant exhibit into something different would offer limitless possibilities, but in fact, many factors need to be considered, including: what animals are available in AZA-accredited facilities; what animals might fit well in the space; what exhibit modifications we can afford; how long it will take to open; what animals give us an opportunity to tell a conservation story; what animals make an exciting connection with guests; and more.

Elephants Helping Elephants
It gives us some comfort to know the elephants we love will “live on” and help other elephants around the country due to the collection of their stem cells. The cells are stored in a lab in Utah, and some of Mac’s cells were recently used to help an elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo, who had a wound on her tail that was not healing.
Microscopic view of Little Mac’s stem cells
Stem cells: University of California, Santa Barbara
Helping Australian Animals Locally
Earlier this year, we created a designated Australia Wildlife Assistance Fund to collect donations from caring Zoo supporters interested in supporting the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts in Australia in the wake of devastating fires. With an initial $5,000 challenge grant to kick things off, more than $25,000 was donated to the Zoo & Aquarium Association, Australasia (ZAA) to aid Australia’s accredited zoos in wildlife recovery efforts.
Australian Animals
Helping Australian Animals Locally
Earlier this year, we created a designated Australia Wildlife Assistance Fund to collect donations from caring Zoo supporters interested in supporting the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts in Australia in the wake of devastating fires. With an initial $5,000 challenge grant to kick things off, more than $25,000 was donated to the Zoo & Aquarium Association, Australasia (ZAA) to aid Australia’s accredited zoos in wildlife recovery efforts.
This is a list with many moving parts, but Director of Collections Rachael Ritchason and Director of Husbandry & Welfare Misty Gray expertly conducted the assessment process as they diligently researched all of the options.

Zoo employees then met with staff at several other zoos, and local project consultant, architecture, and construction companies for their input and expertise. Some animals we considered: rhino (not enough space), pygmy hippo (high cost to add indoor pool/maintenance), cheetah (entire exhibit would have to be enclosed-too expensive). Many other ideas were explored, but did not meet our conditions.
 
We are currently exploring an idea (that met all our criteria): the potential to create an “Aussie walkabout” exhibit featuring several species from Australia. Some ideas include building paths for guests to get up-close experiences with wallabies and kangaroos and even an emu feeding opportunity. This extensive planning process has already begun, which will lead to permitting and fundraising, shaping a timeline for the project.

As we continue planning, we appreciate your support (and patience!). By visiting the Zoo, you help make it possible to bring something new and exciting to Santa Barbara. Stay tuned for more information about who’s moving in at the Zoo!

Legendary Elephants
Asian elephants Sujatha and Little Mac arrived at the Zoo on July 3, 1972 and lived together virtually their entire lives. The connections they made with people have inspired and driven conservation action for elephants and the natural world. The “girls” made us better keepers, better conservationists, and better humans.
Legendary Elephants
Legendary Elephants
Asian elephants Sujatha and Little Mac arrived at the Zoo on July 3, 1972 and lived together virtually their entire lives. The connections they made with people have inspired and driven conservation action for elephants and the natural world. The “girls” made us better keepers, better conservationists, and better humans.