A few weeks ago at a zoo in Paso Robles, a cute little capuchin monkey named Route grabbed a cell phone from a golf cart and made a call to 911. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Deputies showed up and found out no human had made the call – it was the 10-month-old primate who dialed them in a bit of “monkey business.” The incident made international headlines.
We were fortunate enough to have set up a meeting at Zoo to You, which is where this happened… before it happened! I thought after Route became a worldwide celebrity, that she would be to be too busy to meet with us. But we were lucky. They still fit us in between her NBC News shoot and calls from as far away as Brazil and Australia.
Zoo to You is a conservation zoo run by David and Lisa Jackson. They have rescued over a hundred different wild and exotic animals that are housed and taken care of on their property. Before the pandemic, they used to take their animals and visit schools to educate students about conservation, connect them to wildlife, and inspire them to protect the planet. But after the pandemic, because schools were not in session, or it might be unhealthy for a group encounter, they decided to hold one-on-one or up-close-and-personal Wild Animal Encounters at the headquarters of Zoo to You.
Zoo to You has all kinds of animals… including some you can pet, feed, and make very close friends with – and what an extraordinary experience it is!
The first place we went when we got there was called the Wild Playground. Here, different kinds of animals are housed and can come out and play together at the same time. The first animal we met was Sheila, a 10-month-old kangaroo. I held her in a pouch – and then we were able to feed her and a few of her friends.
Westly the Capybara was a super cute animal who ate a cob of corn out of our hands. After eating, she went for a swim in the pond, and would pop up at the edge several times for a quick nuzzle with Sheila.
After Westly was back in her enclosure, the otters, Tucker and Ollie, came out for a swim.
Always adorable creatures, they were also happy to be held in our laps. Absolutely amazing!
Some feathered friends in the playground were a hawk, a couple of owls and a raven, Beelz. I never knew ravens could speak – but Beelz did! Lisa told us the raven’s voice mimicked her husband David Jackson’s voice.
Ruffles the Parrot was a gorgeous bird with a wide wingspan. It was astounding to watch as she flew above us and through the sky for a huge distance and then happily returned to her handler on the grounds of Zoo to You.
After seeing the animals in the Wild Playground – we went to “the outback” which was behind the house where David and Lisa live. A group of kangaroos are out there, including Burt Reynolds, an older male.
Lisa introduced me to a pregnant kangaroo and, OMG, I got to look in her pouch and see the very teeny-weeny baby roo growing there. Although the embryo was only jellybean size, I could actually see her forelegs had already grown and were extending out. It was truly incredible to see!
Route, the now-famous capuchin monkey, was with Lisa almost the entire time of our visit. She perched on her shoulder while Lisa gave us the tour. Then, in the outback, we got to enjoy her antics up close. Route came to me, climbing on my shirt and my head, and wanted to go through my purse. Probably looking for my cell phone to make some more calls!
We also got to hold Bacari the lemur – who was super cuddly and friendly.
Next, we went to the birds of prey area where we saw Cora and Grimm, the black vultures, and three female bald eagles: Aurora, Glacier, and Glory. To my surprise, the male bald eagle is kept separate from the females – because the females would bully him, beat him up, or even kill him!
After that we took a quick visit to see Trouble the Bear and Charlie the Mountain Lion. The zoo previously had a 22-year-old tiger, but sadly, she recently passed away.
You may be wondering, like I did, “Where did all these wild and exotic animals come from?” Lisa told me some might have been illegal pets; others might have been living free, but displaced, abused, abandoned, or permanently injured. David and Lisa now give them a loving, safe, and forever home. The team gets calls from all over the country when an animal is in need of rescue.
The zoo, also called Conservation Ambassadors, was established over 30 years ago by David Jackson, who is the CEO and Director. He has traveled around the world to assist with wildlife conservation efforts and has received numerous awards for animal welfare zoo management, education, and training.
In addition to offering a Wild Animal Encounter, Zoo to You now offers an area where guests can stay overnight in a glamping safari tent for the night. Up to six people at a time can sleep over and enjoy the sounds of nature and wild animals at night and early morn. They call this experience their Wild Night.
In the evening, there’s a firepit for roasting marshmallows before heading into the tents for bed.
We already had reservations at a nearby hotel, so our night wasn’t that “wild” – but I can honestly say the Wild Animal Encounter was one of the most unique and wonderful experiences I’ve ever had.
They also offer education programs, taking animals to schools, and there are opportunities for internships and volunteers on the property. In addition, people can book “wild” corporate events, private parties, and even weddings. Lisa told me they sometimes pack up 20-25 animals into vans and take them to a special event. Arnold Schwarzenegger has hosted several of these “wild” parties, but sadly, “Ahhh-nold” didn’t invite me!
So, if you love animals like I do, and don’t want to make the trek to the Serengeti – just head over to Paso Robles, California, and have a delightful and fascinating visit at Zoo to You.
Conservation Ambassadors South Campus
2445 Adobe Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Thanks to Lisa Jackson and Zoo to You for the photos and our fantastic Wild Animal Encounter!