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Wildlife Learning And Conservation Center Review Los Angeles Animal Encounters Adventure Tour Pet A Turtle In The Great Wide LA Travel Blog

Wildlife Learning and Conservation Center


Do you love animals? Want to get a closer look at them? Maybe even touch them or feed them? Then this incredible non-profit is where you need to go!


CONTENTS



Where is the Wildlife Learning and Conservation Center?

The Wildlife Learning Center is located in Sylmar, CA, which is in the San Fernando Valley, on the northern side of Los Angeles. It’s a small property in a former olive grove, and we have to admit that we had never heard of it even though we’ve lived in Los Angeles for a combined 25+ years and it’s really not that far from us. It just goes to show that even when you think you know LA, there’s always more to discover!


The physical address for the Wildlife Learning Center is: 16027 Yarnell St, Sylmar, CA 91342.



How to Get to the Wildlife Learning Center

If you’re visiting on a weekday, the closest bus stop on the LA Metro is right next to the Center at Foothill Blvd / Yarnell St on the 236 bus line. However, if you’re visiting on the weekend, the closest bus stop is just under a mile away at Roxford St / Bradley Ave on the 224 bus line.


If you want to take a train in, the closest stop is Sylmar Station on the Metrolink Antelope Valley train route, and your Metrolink ticket will transfer over for most LA Metro trains and buses too! On the weekends, Metrolink offers an unlimited ride pass for only $10 per person for all of Saturday and Sunday, plus kids 17 and under ride for free, so it would be an excellent family activity too! Sylmar Station is 3 miles southeast of the Wildlife Learning Center, so you’ll have to either take a bus from there to get the rest of the way (don’t forget you’ll still have to walk 1 mile if it’s the weekend), or you could take an Uber or Lyft for the short ride, which would likely cost $10-$15.


If you’re driving, we recommend carpooling when you can, because the parking lot at the Center is pretty small. There is also street parking though, so don’t worry too much about it if you need to drive separately. The location is super close to the 5, 210, and 405, so it’s easy to get to from any direction.


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What Animals are at the Wildlife Learning Center in Los Angeles?

The Wildlife Learning and Conservation Center has 100+ animals of 50+ species. These animals all came to the Center in their own way; some of them were displaced, some were severely injured, some were rescued from illegal pet trade, and some are zoo-born animals, but the thing that they all have in common is that they wouldn’t survive on their own in the wild.


To make things easy, here’s a list of most of the types of animals they care for at the Wildlife Learning Center:


Mammals:

  • Lemurs

  • Foxes

  • Fennec Fox

  • Canadian Lynx

  • Serval

  • Bobcat

  • Porcupines

  • Sloths

  • Kinkajou

  • Hedgehog

  • Rabbit

  • Chinchilla

  • Giraffe

  • Squirrel Monkeys

  • Marmosets

  • Sugar Gliders

  • Prairie dogs

  • Armadillo



Birds:

  • Bald Eagles

  • Red Tailed Hawks

  • Parrots

  • Raven

  • Owls - including Zeus, a semi-famous blind Western Screech Owl with eyes that look like they hold galaxies


Reptiles

  • All kinds of snakes, including a green tree python, and albino python, a California kingsnake, and a red-tailed boa

  • All kinds of lizards, including a legless lizard (yep, that’s a species!), skinks, and a gila monster

  • Tortoises

  • Alligator (named Fluffy!)


Misc

  • Several types of frogs and toads

  • Scorpions

  • Walking sticks


With General Admission to the Wildlife Learning Center, you’ll get to see most of these animals the same way you would at a zoo, but that is NOT what we recommend. We splurged a bit more on our experience for a friend’s birthday and instead booked one of their private tours, and we do not regret it!


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Our Experience on the Adventure Tour

We were introduced to the Wildlife Learning Center via our friend Sasha, who is an animal lover (specializing in her two cute bunnies). She found them via Instagram and asked if we wanted to join her group for a special tour for her birthday. We had never heard of this place despite having lived in Los Angeles for a combined 25+ years, so we did some research before heading up, just to get a feel for the place. Unfortunately, there are some pretty nasty reviews online, so we were hesitant to go, but after reading up on the company on their own website, it became clear that those negative reviewers do not understand what this place is.


Thankfully, once we met our tour guide, all of those reservations about this being a glorified private zoo were washed away as we realized that none of the animals in the Center would be able to survive on their own. They deserve to live a happy, full life, just like everyone else, and they’re given the best treatment from trained professionals. The tour guide was so incredibly excited to be taking us around and was obviously very passionate about what she does.


The tour we took is called The Adventure Tour, which includes 90 minutes with a guide, several private animal encounters, and general admission if you want to hang around longer after the tour. The Center is small, situated in a former olive grove, so there’s lots of shade as you walk around, but it doesn’t take very long to get around the whole place.


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Starting off the Adventure Tour, we were taken into a small building to see some snakes, lizards, frogs, and toads. Our guide pointed out several specific animals to us and told us fun facts about them, such as kingsnakes getting their name because they actually eat other snakes. She then asked us if we would want to meet a “snake-like-lizard”, to which multiple people in our group of 7 said yes, so she asked us to wait outside while she grabbed him. A minute later, she brought what looked like a snake, but it was actually a legless lizard!


The usual responses we get when we tell people we got to meet a legless lizard are, 1 - aw, the poor lizard lost its legs, or 2 - you mean a snake? 😆 But actually, this species of lizard evolved without legs, so they look like snakes, but with a few key differences, such as eyelids, ear holes, and tail length. Our guide held Lester the Legless Lizard and we got to pet him!


After meeting Lester, we moved on to meet the mammals, starting off by going into an employee-only area to get a view of the lynx, which wasn’t technically supposed to be part of our tour, but our guide wanted to make sure we saw him, which was awesome! He was very sleepy, so we just stayed long enough to take a couple pictures.


We walked past squirrel monkeys on our way to the foxes, one of whom was super talkative! If you’ve never heard a fox before, I don’t know how to describe the noise to you, but it is unlike anything you’ve heard before. The second fox we saw started climbing the side of the fence as we approached, which is how we learned that red foxes are unexpectedly excellent climbers. In the same area, we also got to see a handsome serval lounging the day away and some curious eagle owls.


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Perhaps the most fun thing we did at the Center came next: feeding porcupines! Despite their dangerous reputation, porcupines are extremely gentle creatures. They evolved the quills simply because they needed a good defense in the wild, much like a skunk’s spray. We got to go fully into the porcupine habitat, where 3 porcupines emerged to greet us. The guide picked up the porcupines in the absolute cutest way: she grabbed one front paw and the porcupine would hold up the other paw and then she would lift them up like a small child with their arms in the air to be carried to a table in front of us. It was adorable and our friends did an audible group “awwwww”. We fed them celery, carrots, and biscuits made especially for them with all the nutrients they need. We just held out the stick of food and they would grab it right out of your hand with their little paws or their big front teeth.


Speaking of big front teeth, there was one porcupine that had to be sequestered from the others (and the people coming in to feed them, for that matter) due to his aggressiveness, which he showed by trying to chew through the bars in his cage with his menacing red teeth. Porcupines have red front teeth due to iron oxide in their enamel (people have white teeth because we have calcium in our enamel), but his seemed especially red. We still got to see him, just not during the feeding.


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After feeding the porcupines came our optional choice for the Adventure Tour. When you book the tour, you get to choose between feeding a lemur, meeting a hedgehog or armadillo, or going behind the scenes with a fox or serval. We chose feeding the lemurs, because they’re just so darn cute!


The lemurs knew what was going on immediately as we walked up, and they climbed on the chain-link fence that separated us to show that they were ready. Our guide put small chunks of fruit on sticks and handed one to each of us to feed to the lemurs through the fence. Apparently, lemurs have extremely strong grip strength, so you wouldn’t want them accidentally grabbing hold of your finger as you give them food (or accidentally biting it, for that matter). We each got to feed them only that one piece of fruit, which we learned from our guide is so they can monitor the lemurs’ sugar intake. It turns out that monkeys can get diabetes just like humans can.


This is also when we got an up-close look at that other porcupine that hadn’t been very nice to the other porcupines and - I won’t lie - he does look a little scary. He had climbed up on his chain-link fence RIGHT behind us as we fed the lemurs, so watch your butts!


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Moving on, we saw a fennec fox, marmoset, and bald eagles on our way to the sloth habitat, which we got to go inside to meet and actually pet him! It’s very hot and humid inside their structure to mimic the tropical rainforests where they live in the wild, and we learned that they sleep for an average of 20 hours per day and have a metabolism so slow that they only poop once a week. Their fur is wiry and matted, and since they move so slowly, algae will often grow on their fur in the wild, turning it green and helping camouflage them in the trees. The Wildlife Learning Center even had a baby sloth born there in 2021!


After petting the sloth, we saw Fluffy the Alligator, who was confiscated from someone who had kept him in a bathtub as a pet, and then moved on to see the tortoises. The Center has a few large, older tortoises and a few small, younger tortoises. Our guide grabbed one of the small tortoises, brought him out to the dirt walkway where we were standing, and set him down so he could wander around between us and explore. He moved much faster than we anticipated and after a short while, he walked right up to me. The guide reset him in his starting place, and he darted right back over to me again! And again! It was adorable.


While the small tortoise had all of our attention, a much larger one came out from his nap and walked across his habitat to get some food. Once he arrived, he plopped down on his belly to eat, which was hysterical. Our guide told us that the small tortoise we had been interacting with only weighed about 8lbs, but the large one we were now looking at weighs around 300! She said they live for about 150 years, so that little guy still has quite a ways to go!


Before it was time to move on, our guide picked up the small tortoise again and allowed us to gently pet his shell. She explained that tortoises can feel you touching their shell the same way that we humans can feel something touching our skin. The tortoises are born with their shell, and it grows with them. I thought that was very cool.



That being our last animal interaction, our guide finished up our tour by showing us the red-tailed hawks, who happened to be eating as we stopped by, which can be a little brutal to watch. She showed us the prairie dogs, playing with scraps of what looks like trash but is actually toys to them. We saw a raven, a few beautifully colorful parrots, and an impressive 17-foot-long boa!


All of this was packed into a 90-minute tour, and we enjoyed the hell out of it. We were a little worried that the tour was going to be cheesy for our all-adult group because the Center does so much educational work with kids, but we all ended up having such a great time! Our guide went above and beyond and we came away with some cool new knowledge and amazing photos and videos that really impressed our nieces and nephews when we saw them a month later 😜


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Fun Facts We Learned About the Animals at the Wildlife Learning Center

  1. There is a species of lizards that evolved without legs so they look like snakes! The lizards have eyelids and ear holes though, which snakes do not have, and the lizards have very long tails, whereas a snake’s body is mostly that - their body - with a very short tail.

  2. Porcupines don’t actually shoot their quills out for protection, they just puff up like a puffer fish and then walk backwards into their attacker, leaving quills behind after stabbing their enemy. The quills are also barbed, making them even harder to remove.

  3. Many amphibians are intensely sensitive to water quality, so they were served water with a special solution that made it safe for them.

  4. It’s extremely difficult for albino snakes to hunt in the wild because they’ve lost their camouflage, but they have been extensively bred as pets.

  5. Melanistic means the opposite of albino, meaning the melanistic red foxes at the Center have extra pigment in their fur, making them appear black instead of red.

  6. Red foxes are great climbers!

  7. Primates can get diabetes just like humans.

  8. Bald Eagles were hunted and poisoned almost to extinction, with their numbers dwindling under 500 in the 1960’s. Thanks to new laws being passed to protect them, their numbers are now back up in the hundred thousands.

  9. A fennec fox has such incredible hearing that it can hear a mouse’s heartbeat 1 foot underground. This means that human speech is super loud to them, which is why they often hide.

  10. Sloths sleep an average of 20 hours per day and move so slowly that algae grows on their blonde fur in the wild, acting as camouflage as they sleep in the trees.


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Addressing the Stigma Around Zoos

We know that a lot of people don’t like the idea of a zoo because wild animals shouldn’t be locked up in cages. Unfortunately, this belief has caused a number of negative reviews for the Wildlife Learning Center online, which made us very hesitant to visit at first. HOWEVER - and this is a big one - this is NOT a zoo. It is a conservation center.


The animals they care for at this facility simply would not survive on their own, and our tour guide made that very clear. Some are too permanently injured to hunt, and some never learned how to hunt in the first place, so releasing these animals into the wild would be a death sentence. At least in the care of this incredible conservation center, these animals are able to live out their lives happily, acting as ambassadors for their species in the thousands of educational presentations the Center does.


You can even read the stories of how some of the animals came to be at the Wildlife Learning Center on this page of their website. For example, one of their hawks was hit by a car and had to have a wing amputated, and their prairie dogs were being exterminated in the Midwest by people pouring concrete into their burrows, essentially burying them alive. The Wildlife Learning Center offers a second chance to these animals, so that they may get the care they need and live out their lives in peace.



The Center also participates in Species Survival Plans, which helps breed endangered species between multiple accredited facilities to increase their population with a diverse genetic pool. They had a baby sloth born there in 2021!


Even though we were hesitant to go at first because of the negative reviews we found online calling this a glorified private zoo, we hope all of this information will help you understand the amazing work they are actually doing here, which is 100% worth supporting. Did we mention this place is also a non-profit charity?


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Tickets and Private Tours at the Wildlife Learning Center

The Wildlife Learning Center is open from 10am - 5pm every day, but General Admission is only available Monday - Friday, for $15 per adult, with discounts offered for children, seniors, military, and teachers. This is a non-profit organization, so their staff is limited, which is why you are encouraged to book even your general admission tickets in advance on their website.


If you are limited to visiting on the weekend, then you must book a private tour, which we recommend doing anyway! Here are the 2 options:


Adventure Tour

This is their higher-end tour, and it’s the one we chose. We are not being sponsored by the Center to say any of this, but it is totally worth it! It includes:

  • General admission

  • 90-minute guided tour

  • Meet a sloth

  • Touch a reptile

  • Feed a porcupine

  • Meet a tortoise

  • Your choice of one of the following: Meet a hedgehog, feed a lemur, meet an armadillo, or go behind-the-scenes with a fox or serval


The Adventure Tour at the Wildlife Learning Center costs $330 for 1-5 people, and you can add up to 2 more people for an additional $52/person, bringing you to a total of 7 people for $434, which is $62/person. It can be booked for any day of the week but must be booked in advance on their website.



Zoofari Tour

Includes:

  • General admission

  • 45-minute guided tour

  • Your choice of one of the following: Meet an eagle owl, touch an armadillo, feed a porcupine, touch a snake, meet a rabbit, chinchilla, and hedgehog


The Zoofari Tour at the Wildlife Learning Center costs $155 for 1-5 people, and you can add up to 2 more people for an additional $18/person, bringing you to a total of 7 people for $191, which is $28/person. It can be booked for any day of the week but must be booked in advance on their website.


You also have the option with the Zoofari Tour to add up to 2 more animal encounters, but the options and prices will vary, so I suggest calling and asking what the options would be for the specific day you’re planning to go.



If you’re really excited to see a specific animal, we highly recommend calling the Center in advance to make sure that the animal will be available that day. If you’re going in with general admission, there’s still no 100% guarantee that you’ll see them, the same way it would work at a zoo, but if you’ve booked a private tour, I think the Center would be happy to make sure you see the animals you’re really excited about. Because this is a working conservation center, there are times when certain animals are busy doing other things, such as one of their outreach programs at a school, but I would hate to hear that someone ended up leaving disappointed because they thought they’d get to see a certain animal but didn’t.


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How to Support the Wildlife Learning and Conservation Center

The Wildlife Learning and Conservation Center is a non-profit charity, so the work that they do is mostly funded by the tours they offer and generous donations. They have a list of ways to donate on this page of their website, such as a single donation or a monthly donation, all of which are tax-deductible.


They also have an Amazon wish list that you can purchase something off of to be sent directly to them. You can view it here. If you’re local to the area, you could also choose to purchase some simple household items such as hand sanitizer, paper towels, and large trash bags to drop off at the center. They have a list of items they need on this page of their website.


However, the easiest way to support the Wildlife Learning Center on a regular basis is to choose them as your Amazon Smile charity. Head over to this page of Amazon’s website, search for “Wildlife Learning Foundation” and select the location in Sylmar, CA. Now all you have to do is start your Amazon shopping sessions at Smile.Amazon.com and Amazon will automatically donate .5% of eligible purchases to the Wildlife Learning Center, at no extra cost to you.


Pro Tip: If you already use Amazon Smile but want to change your charity selection, click on Accounts & Lists in the upper-right corner, scroll down to Other Programs, and click Change your AmazonSmile charity. You’ll be able to search for them there.



To be completely honest, Amazon Smile is a tax loophole for Amazon, which is sneaky and annoying, but since it doesn’t cost you anything extra, I think it’s worth it to know that this worthy charity is getting the funds that they need. Every little bit helps!


One more Pro Tip: You have to turn on a setting in the Amazon app for purchases you make from there to count towards it. We have a short video coming soon with instructions on how to do it.


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Our Verdict

Despite our reservations because of negative online reviews, we went to the Wildlife Learning Center and we’re so glad we did. I can’t believe how long we’ve lived in Los Angeles not knowing about it! Their mission is for the benefit of all animals and we were happy to know that every dime we spent went straight to helping the animals who need it the most.


It is 100% worth it to dish out the extra cash for the Adventure Tour; we simply would not have had the amazing experience we did if we had just paid for general admission. This place is for animal lovers of all ages, so if you’re in the Los Angeles area, we highly recommend checking out the Wildlife Learning Center!



Quick Reference Guide

What

Where

How to Get There

Mon-Fri there’s an LA Metro bus stop right next to the Center, but the closest bus stop on the weekend is about 1 mile away. The Sylmar Metrolink train station is 3 miles southeast of the Center. There is a small parking lot and some street parking available if you’re driving. The Center is just off the 5, 210, and 405 freeways.

Time Commitment

With general admission, you’d probably spend about 1 hour here, but we highly recommend going with a private tour instead! If you’re visiting on the weekend, there is NO general admission, so you’ll have to do a tour anyway! Adventure Tour: 90 minutes Zoofari Tour: 45 minutes

Cost

General Admission: $15 Adventure Tour: $330 for up to 5 people = $66/person

  • May add up to 2 more people for $52 each = $62/person total

Zoofari Tour: $155 for up to 5 people = $31/person

  • May add up to 2 more people for $18 each = $28/person total


Reservation Info

Pro Tip

Select Wildlife Learning Foundation in Sylmar, CA as your Amazon Smile charity to support this great charity on a regular basis!

Our Verdict

We highly recommend the Adventure Tour to learn and interact with animals you wouldn’t normally have a chance to. It will be so worth the extra money over general admission, and since this is a non-profit, you can feel good knowing that all the money you spend here goes directly towards caring for the animals!


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Phoebe Meador Travel Writer And Photographer For In The Great Wide Los Angeles Travel Blog By Locals


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