Zoo Hidden In The Wine Valley

Boasting a collection of around 80 species
BY: OLIVER QUINTERO

Did you know there was a zoo in the wine valley? Nope, didn’t think you did. It has been there for you for seven years and has been growing larger each year, with more “guests” living there each year. You’ve probably zipped right by it and didn’t know, because there’s not a lot of clues on the outside. In fact the sign says, “Parque del Niño” which translates to kids’ park.  But it’s also the second largest zoo (in number of guests), in the entire state of Baja, just after the Mexicali zoo.

It was originally planned to be just a kiddie park, (explains the sign). Jersey, a regional company that sells mostly pasteurized goods like milk, yogurt and orange juice, has a history of building parks around the state as a way of giving back to the community for their support  in buying their dairy products, and this was built by them. The new Guadalupe Valley park was meant to be just like one of those, but bigger and with pools, which was going to make a big difference for the kids. But as the project was being designed, a camel was given to Don Ernesto Jimenez, head of the Jersey company. Not knowing what to do with the damn thing, he there and then decided to build a zoo in his new park, and now the zoo has become the main event. The park and zoo are sprawled on an area of around 30 acres, but more land is available for growth.

To know a little more about the animals displayed in the zoo, we talked to one of the head veterinarians, Sergio Felix, who told us that he actually transferred from the company stables to the zoo once the park opened.

Sergio assures us the zoo has worked hard to take good care of the animals, making sure they are comfortable and that they have plenty of their favorite foods. And, San Diego Zoo keepers pitch in every once in a while, visiting the zoo and giving our keepers tips on how to keep the various guests happy. Most of the guests come from other zoos, mostly zoos in the northern part of Mexico. Some are gifts, some are bought and some are just loaners and they have to eventually go back. Most loaners from other zoos are what the zoo industry calls a reproductive loan. A zoo lends one of their animals to another zoo at no charge but with the condition that if the new critters hit it off and produce more critters, the first litter is theirs. This is specified in a contract that is actually bigger than any real estate contract I’ve ever seen, and it has to be approved by all the environmental agencies in Mexico: (PROFEPA and SEMARNAT).

Our zoo here  is an official recipient of animals recovered by PROFEPA. If they catch you taking your baboon for a walk, the creature will end up in the zoo if you can’t show the proper paperwork for it. (There is proper paperwork for baboon friendships? Who knew?)

Lots of money is spent each day feeding the animals and maintaining the park, and some of this is recovered by the entrance fee, but most of it is coughed up by the Jersey Company. The zoo is part of the AZCARM, which is the Mexican association of zoos and aquariums. Their mission is to come up with the best practices for them and it serves as a clearinghouse to share information and species. (Critters. Species is science talk for critters.)

The park also has kid games, inflatable toys, swimming pools, a mechanical bull, paddle boats, shade palapas for picnics, BBQ grills, and a little train that takes people around the park.

It’s fun, especially if you have kids with you. The entrance fee is only two Gringo bucks per person but it doesn’t include entrance to the swimming pools or most of the other attractions just mentioned. (Pay attention!) They do sell a VIP ticket for $7 that includes all the attractions which seems like the best deal if you’re spending some time there. If you’re only going to see the animals, just pay the two bucks and then jam over to some wine sipping opportunities that abound  in the nearby wineries. What? You can’t do that because you brought the kids? Poor planning on your part.

To get to the zoo take the Rosarito-Ensenada free road and make a left at Km 84, there is a sign there that says “PARQUE DEL NIÑO”, drive on for around 12.5 miles and you will find the zoo on the left. Remember, it says “PARQUE DEL NIÑO” and not zoo, so we can only hope you’ve paid attention. If not, don’t blame us, we’ve only told you about the sign five times.