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Feel What It’s Like to Be Wild at Wildlife Explorers Basecamp

Who knew fun could be such serious business? At the San Diego Zoo’s Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, explorers of all ages will splash, slide and jump side-by-side with wildlife — an innovative experience called “parallel play.” But these water features and climbing structures have a hidden benefit: time playing in and around nature has been shown to boost the physical, cognitive, social and emotional aspects of children’s development. Playing freely in natural settings builds self-confidence, resilience and creativity. 

Perhaps most exciting for us at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, nature play has also been shown to boost empathy for wildlife — fostering the next generation of conservation-minded voters, teachers, parents, scientists and decision-makers. And empathy is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. This means that with each visit to Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, explorers of all ages will leave with more compassion for creatures great and small. Increased empathy for wildlife has also been linked to more empathy for people since the same parts of the brain are activated, so we hope explorers leave with greater care for each other, as well. Parents and caregivers play a critical role in helping develop empathy, so join in the adventures! There’s plenty to discover … just take a look at what’s in store throughout each of Basecamp’s four unique outdoor ecosystems.

Desert Dunes
Explore the world’s deserts — lands of extreme temperatures — as you scramble up a sloping rock wall, splash alongside a rotating globe fountain and encounter larger-than-life beetles and other creatures. Nearby, you’ll find scurrying fennec foxes, prairie dogs and pint-sized burrowing owls — our neighbors in the southwestern United States. While you’re there, learn how San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance scientists are working to save these little birds through a local conservation breeding program. Some owls raised in our care are reintroduced to their native habitat in San Diego County!

Wild Woods
Choose your own adventure: Will you take the rope bridge, net tunnel or winding stairs to scale the 20-foot-tall ancient oak tree? At the top, come nose-to-nose with primates and coatis, a South American species whose nimble toes and strong claws makes them perfectly suited for the treetops. Climb down to the forest floor, where you’ll find a waterfall, winding stream, jumping jets and fog machines among eroded bluffs. All of these adventures are forms of parallel play, fostering an emotional connection between explorers and animals, inspiring them to join us in creating a world where all life thrives.

Marsh Meadows
Submerge yourself in the swampy, soggy world of marshes as you make your way down a sloping pathway dotted with frog and fish silhouettes. Discover turtles and fish as they swim by, and keep a lookout for the dwarf caiman. They may be small for a crocodilian, but these reptiles can still grow to be about as long as an average-sized man!

Rainforest
As you trek across the tropical-themed bridge among towering trees and tangled vines, you might spot one of our animal ambassadors — including tamanduas, or lesser anteaters, and prehensile-tailed porcupines — in their dynamic new habitats. These furry, feathered and scaly friends take part in up-close encounters with guests that can be powerful catalysts for conservation learning, both at the Zoo and out and about in our community. Their home is in Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, but they rotate habitats so you never know who will be right around the corner!

Building Wildlife Empathy Beyond Basecamp
Parents and caregivers play a critical role in helping develop empathy, and we hope your Basecamp experiences inspires you to continue the empathy workout together long after you’ve left the Zoo’s front doors. Model how to “bee kind” to wildlife, especially those that don’t usually get much love, like insects, spiders and snakes. Work together to make your yard welcoming to all wildlife by planning pollinator friendly and native plants. Or snuggle up and put on an episode of Amazing Wildlife — our family podcast that provides a behind-the-scenes look inside the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and our work to save wildlife worldwide.

No matter how you go about it, we hope you continue finding ways to strengthen empathy for wildlife together — inspiring wildlife explorers to transform into future conservationists.

Check us out @SanDiegoZoo


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