Up close and personal with wildlife in the SCV

A gibbon at the Gibbon Conservation Center, swings in its enclosure Sunday morning. September 12, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.
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The Santa Clarita Valley is surrounded by open space, meaning its residents are often catching glimpses of some of the natural wildlife that calls its hills and valleys home.

However, SCV residents also have the chance to get up close and personal with wildlife through a number of animal centers and preserves in the local area.

Gibbon Conservation Center

The Gibbon Conservation Center’s three dozen gibbons have called Saugus home for more than 40 years.

Though they look like monkeys, gibbons are actually small apes, and spend most of their time in the treetops of the rainforest in southeast Asia.

Almost every one of the 20 species of gibbons is threatened by extinction, which is why the center has been working to preserve the rest of that population since its founding in 1976 by primatologist Alan Richard Mootnick, and today, the center is home to five different species of gibbons.

Gibbons are known as the most acrobatic apes, swinging from tree to tree at speeds of up to 35 mph (the same speed as a galloping racehorse) and bridging gaps as wide as 50 feet with a single leap, according to Gabi Skollar, the center’s director.

Gabi Skollar, director of the Gibbon Conservation Center, leads a tour group through the Center’s Santa Clarita facility Sunday morning. September 12, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

They’re also often referred to as the “songbirds of the primate family,” according to the center, as every morning at sunrise, you’ll hear them singing to mark their territory, Skollar said.

The center was set to move to a 26-acre property in Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County, hoping to expand enclosures for the three dozen gibbons and head to a more temperate climate, but their purchase fell through, according to Skollar.

Now, the center is working toward purchasing its current 5-acre site in Saugus, as the lease ended in July, buying the organization more time to look for a permanent home and larger facility that would allow it to grow, with at least 20 useable acres, as well as a facility in a better climate, as the SCV is too hot and dry for the gibbons’ typical climate, Skollar added.

However, the center is here to stay for the next couple of years, Skollar said, adding that in the meantime, residents can swing into the now reopened Saugus center.

Reservations are required to visit the Gibbon Conservation Center, located at 19100 Esguerra Road in Saugus, which is open to the public each Saturday and Sunday for a fee of $15 per adult, $10 seniors, $12 students and teens, $5 kids ages 5-12, with a max of 25 people per group. Children under 4 are not allowed currently and masks are required. Private tours are also available both weekdays and weekends.

For more information, visit gibboncenter.org or call the center at 661-296-2737.

A gibbon at the Gibbon Conservation Center, rests in its enclosure Sunday morning. September 12, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Animal Tracks

Animal Tracks Inc. began as a place where exotic animals that were in need of a home could go, blossoming into an Agua Dulce animal sanctuary visited by people from all over the world, except Antarctica and the Arctic Circle.

Now, exotic animals, such as monkeys, kangaroos, wolves and more — many of whom were illegally kept as pets by people who didn’t understand how to care for them — are helping to educate visitors by allowing them to witness their natural behaviors up close and personal.

“The animal knows that nobody’s here to make them do something they don’t want to do, and that’s the secret,” Stacy Gunderson, director of Animal Tracks, said in a previous Signal interview.

Animal Tracks has called its Agua Dulce ranch home for more than a decade and now is in the process of moving, as it was recently discovered the property’s zoning changed and they are no longer legally able to operate out of their current location. 

Visitors to Animal Tracks, Inc.’s Sanctu-scary tours got up close and personal with animals like this alligator. Matt Fernandez/ The Signal

Now, the sanctuary is in the process of merging with Jaws and Paws, a local nonprofit wolf sanctuary and animal rescue, according to Gunderson, who added that the animals are set to relocate to the nonprofit’s property located just a few miles north in Acton.

“We are starting to build momentum towards the move … (and) we’re hoping that in the next year, we would be open to the public again,” Gunderson said.

While the sanctuary is not currently open to the public, it’s continuing to rely on donations and grants to care for its animals until it’s able to reopen, and are raising funds to do so, Gunderson added.

“It’s been crazy hard. We have lost our entire staff because we haven’t been able to pay them … and we’re completely volunteer at this point,” Gunderson said. “Hopefully, we make it long enough to make this move happen.”

For more information, visit animaltracksinc.org or email [email protected].

Ranch director Stacy Gunderson removes “Jake” the Cockatoo from his enclosure at the Agua Dulce-based animal sanctuary Animal Tracks Inc. Austin Dave/The Signal

Shadowland Foundation

Over in Lake Hughes lies the Shadowland Foundation, a wolf sanctuary that is home to a pack of nine wolves.

The foundation’s goal is to educate people on these wild animals, working toward halting movements of eradicating wolves, as most wolves had been eradicated from the U.S. by the early 1930s.

With the hopes of changing people’s hearts and minds about wolves, they created educational programs that are open to the public where visitors not only get a chance to get up close and personal with the wolves, but can truly interact with them.

Paul Pondella checks the teeth on four-year-old Wakahn during the educational program at Shadowland Foundation in Lake Hughes. Dan Watson/The Signal

Visitors can learn about the history of the sanctuary, as well as some of the science and history of wild wolves, before getting a chance to play with the pack.

While the foundation’s Saturday educational program is suspended, though private visits are still available for fully vaccinated individuals by appointment.

Shadowland Foundation is located at 18832 Pine Canyon Road in Lake Hughes. For more information, visit shadowlandfoundation.org or call 661-724-0291.

Andrew Cope, left, of Woodland Hills pets Takoda as he wonders among the attendees during the educational program at Shadowland Foundtion in Lake Hughes. Dan Watson/The Signal

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