Wildlife Learning Center (WLC) is a zoological park located in an old olive grove in Sylmar, less than 20 minutes outside of Burbank. The center is home to about 50 different species of animals from lynx, bobcats, foxes, bald eagles, and porcupines to snakes, tortoises, alligators, sloths and more. Before the pandemic, WLC was a large part of the Burbank community and advocated for animals at school assemblies, summer library programs, and even at Magnolia Park’s Ladies and Gents Night Out event.
While stores and businesses closed due to the stay at home order, places like the Wildlife Learning Center were also closed to the public, cutting them off from all of their regular funding. The animals at the center call WLC their forever home and can’t be released back into the wild either due to an injury or being confiscated as an illegal pet. Executive Director David Riherd and his staff worked tirelessly to continue caring for the animals during the quarantine and adapted their programs to the public to create a safe place while still continuing the work of public education in the life sciences, conservation, and our environment. “Wildlife Learning Center is surviving COVID, but our heart goes out to every person and every organization who has been impacted by the virus,” said Riherd. “We are surviving the pandemic because of the generosity of our community of supporters, and we are deeply thankful to everyone who has helped us through this long and difficult time.”
Starting Tuesday, February 23rd, WLC will be opening back up for general admission. During the pandemic they have held private tours but this will be the first time opening up to the general public since March of 2020. General hours will be Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 5pm, and advanced tickets are required, which can be purchased from their website, www.wildlifelearningcenter.org. Face coverings and distancing are required from guests and there are hand sanitizing stations throughout the center. “Our visitors mean the world to us and we’re excited to welcome people back. We think the animals are too,” said Riherd. “We are finally seeing a light at the end of this dark COVID tunnel.”
For a more private experience, WLC offers a Zoofari Tour and Adventure Tour, both available for groups of up to 8 people and can be booked right from their website. The Zoofari tour consists of a 30 minute guided tour of the center by a staff biologist followed by one of the three experiences: feed a giraffe, touch an armadillo, or feed a porcupine. The Adventure Tour is 90 minutes and consists of a guided tour and all of the following: feed a giraffe, meet a sloth, feed a tortoise, meet a reptile, and feed a porcupine. “Visiting the animals and biologists at the Wildlife Learning Center is always a treat, but getting a private tour during these COVID times was almost better, oddly enough. It was like having the whole place to ourselves,” said guest Alona Tal Ferraez. “The porcupines are always one of my favorites. They just get so excited when they see you walk through the door because they know they get treats.”
The pandemic has not stopped WLC from continuing their outreach and education to children. Their biologists combine wildlife and the State of California Academic Standards for Science in a fun and informative way through 15 minute virtual lessons. Lesson topics include animal classification, adaptations, California natives, rainforests, life cycles, and conservation and each lesson includes five animals. More information on their school lessons can be found on their website.
“Things are starting to look much better, but we still rely on the public’s support,” adds Riherd. “We know that there are many deserving organizations to contribute to, but for anyone who is in a position to help us, we would be immensely grateful. You can go to our website to make a gift or send to Wildlife Learning Foundation, 15981 Yarnell Street, Suite 251, Sylmar, CA 91342. Wildlife Learning Foundation is a 501(C)(3) tax-exempt organization Tax ID 75-3100001.”