The Santa Barbara Zoo Is Bringing the Outback to SoCal with Emus and Kangaroos and Kookaburras, Oh My!

Whooooooo you looking at? Yes, you, tawny frogmouth. Photo by PsJeremy/CC BY 2.0
Whooooooo you looking at? Yes, you, tawny frogmouth. Photo by PsJeremy/CC BY 2.0
1/9/21 - By Meghan Rose

What's new at the Santa Barbara Zoo? Families across the city have missed everything about our local zoos with closures this winter (especially Zoo Lights at the LA Zoo). That’s why the news that in the summer of 2021 something new and special is coming to the Santa Barbara Zoo is so very welcome. They’re roaring back, bigger and better than ever before, giving LA kids and families yet another reason to visit the zoo … a trip to the Outback of Australia, with no passport required, just a simple zip up the 101.


An artist rendering of the new Australian Walkabout at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Artist rendering of the entry to the new exhibit.

As a devoted Angeleno, who can argue with any New Yorker or San Franciscan about why our city is the best (I mean, our beaches, our hikes, our street food, our creative people, the millions of playgrounds and museums and … well, you know!), I have a confession. While I adore the LA Zoo, my all time favorite zoo is actually the Santa Barbara Zoo. It might be that it’s a more manageable size than some of the bigger SoCal zoos. It might be that I fell in love with Gemina, the crooked necked giraffe, the first time I visited. Or just because a visit means a trip up the coast to one of the most beautiful seaside towns in the world. Whatever the reason, the Santa Barbara Zoo has always been a special place.

Mama and baby wallaby. Can you spot the baby?

Look close. Closer. Do you see the baby wallaby? Photo by Diliff/CC BY 3.0

Now it’s getting just a little more special. Ground has broken on the new area, called The Australian Walkabout. With plans to open this coming summer, the 15,000 square-foot habitat will be populated with wallabies, kangaroos, emus, and native birds. The area is replacing the former elephant exhibit, and is being designed with open pathways and beautifully landscaped backdrops everywhere you turn.

The first thing my kids said when I told them about this exhibit was, “So, will it help rescue some of the animals that were hurt in the big fires in Australia?” Well, maybe not those exact animals, but those species, definitely.

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The emu is coming to the Santa Barbara Zoo.

I see you, emu. Photo by The B@t/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“The recent megafires in Australia devastated enormous swaths of unique habitat and displaced or cost the lives of an estimated almost 3 billion animals which include native mammals, birds, reptiles, and frogs,” explains Dr. Julie Barnes, native Australian and Vice President of AnimalCare & Health of the Santa Barbara Zoo. With our own recent wildfires in California, it’s a great reminder that what humans do impacts all our fellow animals.

And what amazing animals we will be able to see! Starting with birds, like the sulphur-crested cockatoo, tawny frogmouth, laughing kookaburra, and the giant emu. Emus are the tallest bird in Australia, and second tallest bird in the world (after the ostrich), and while they can’t fly, these 6 foot tall birds can run 31 miles an hour.

This kangaroo has a mean left hook.

Ever seen a kangaroo box? Photo by Scott Calleja/CC BY 2.0

There will be kangaroos and wallabies, of course, and kids will be able to learn the differences between the two types of marsupials (coloring and size are the noticeable differences, though apparently one boxes?).

Alongside meeting and learning about all the animals, the Santa Barbara Zoo is working with a representative from the Aboriginal nations to incorporate Aboriginal culture and language into the exhibit.

Artist rendering of the Australian Outback exhibit coming soon to the Santa Barbara Zoo

An artist rendering of taking a walkabout through the new space at the zoo.

The Australian Walkabout exhibit is supposed to open to the public in the summer of 2021 (well, barring unforeseen events—see all of 2020), and hopefully the zoo will be open again well before that. (So we can visit the cutest and tiniest new inhabitants, like Pauline, the baby lion cub that was born in November and hasn’t been seen by the public yet!)

All photos and renderings courtesy of the Santa Barbara Zoo unless otherwise noted

Top photo by PsJeremy/CC BY 2.0

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