For those of you who have followed along with my blogs in the past, you might recall that Alex has this pretty incredible talent of birthday gift-giving. Every year he totally surprises me with something I would have never in a million years guessed…and it usually has something to do with animals 😉
Two years ago, he drove me up north towards Sacramento so that we could swim and have dinner with dolphins, and last year he drove me south a bit to the Long Beach Aquarium, where we got to hold and feed and learn all about penguins! So this year, when he told me that he had yet another birthday surprise up his sleeve, I couldn’t even imagine anything being as cool as the last two years.
But Al never disappoints. And so this year when he put me in the drivers seat and told me that he’d give me directions and we ended up in this little neighborhood north of Hollywood, I still had absolutely no idea what we were doing…until I saw a giraffe peeking his head up over a building.
Damnit Al, you did it again!
For my 26th Birthday, Al took me and Laur and Josh to The Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar for a personal guided tour and a few animal experiences.
The Learning Center is a little zoological parked nestled in an old olive grove in Sylmar. It got its beginnings in 1993 when the two founders started rescuing unwanted pets in California and taking them to local schools to teach kids. It soon grew into its own non-profit, and now it’s home to about 50 different species of animals, totaling somewhere between 100 and 200 individual animals. All of the animals in the Learning Center are displaced, rescued, or zoo-born, and are used to teach people to care for our environment and the species that live in it. The staff treat these animals like their own, knowing them each by name and personality. It really is a cool little place.
Admission to the Center is $10 / person, and you can sign up for certain individual animal experiences – like porcupines, alligators, giraffes, owls, and sloths – for an additional sum. Although they don’t take reservations for these, they recommend calling ahead in the morning to ensure that the animal you want to see isn’t at school teaching kids!
Alex signed us up for the On-Site Interactive Tour, which you do need a reservation for. And this tour includes your very own guide who takes you around to each exhibit and teaches you about the animals. Throughout the tour though, you get to have some one-on-one time with a few of the animals! We got to sit by a Serval cat, feed the cutest and funniest group of porcupines, hold a tiny Tawny Owl named Newton, and get up close to an even tinier Fennec Fox! But perhaps the most exciting part of the day – for us at least – was getting to pet TWO two-toed sloths. Yes.
Alex and I are pretty big sloth fans, and I’m pretty sure we’ve watched every sloth documentary that Netflix has to offer. So we were very excited.
What makes these sloths – Lola and Sid – even cooler, is that they’re pretty much celebrities! You may have seen Lola meet Kristen Bell on The Ellen Show. In fact, a lot of the animals in the Sanctuary are used on different talk shows in the LA area, because they’re used as teaching aids. If you’ve seen the movie, Zootopia, you might be interested to know that some of the artists actually visited the Learning Center to observe the animals and pick up on how they move and behave before they started drawing them!
All in all, I would tell anyone who’s in the area to visit the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar, and I’d definitely recommend paying for a few animal experiences. It would be a great morning or afternoon trip – with kids or without – and you only need to spend about two hours there to see everything. All of the money this organization brings in goes directly back to the care of these animals, and they’re continually working on the exhibits to fit each animal’s needs. It was also cool to hear about how they acquired each animal there, and even more interesting to see different species (especially the cats and foxes) coexisting because they came into the sanctuary around the same time and immediately found comfort in one another.
This was such a cool little hidden gem in the middle of LA that I don’t think a lot of people know about…it literally sits in the middle of a neighborhood! Of course, leave it to Al to find this awesome little place. If you’re an animal-lover and find yourself in LA, go check them out and give back to the animals and the people who care for them! And if you know anyone who is housing an illegal species – whether it be alligators, large snakes, or foxes – please urge them to rethink their decision and give their “pet” to this wonderful refuge.
Thank you, Al, for yet another perfect birthday surprise! I love you!