San Diego Zoo Wildlife Explorers Basecamp



San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Public Relations



San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is an international nonprofit conservation organization that operates two world-class parks, the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and empowers people to connect with plants and animals, develop an understanding of nature, and contribute to safeguard wildlife everywhere by becoming Wildlife Allies. With a focus on global health and the interconnectedness of human, wildlife, and habitat health, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance aims to drive greater conservation outcomes including improving biodiversity and developing strong ecosystems. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance collaborates with hundreds of individuals and organizations in field projects worldwide to innovate and implement full-spectrum conservation strategies. This synergy between work at home and in the field inspires and catalyzes conservation action on behalf of wildlife in unparalleled ways and helps create a world where all life thrives.

Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp covers approximately 3.2 acres, including the Kenneth C. Griffin Komodo Kingdom and William E. Cole Family Hummingbird Habitat that opened in 2021. The new habitat is designed to appeal to all age groups, especially families, and foster empathy for nature.

San Diego Zoo        
2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92112

Wildlife Explorers Basecamp is built on the site of the historic Children’s Zoo.
The entrance sign features nine leafcutter ant sculptures carrying leaves atop a trellis.

  • The area includes:
    • 4 different habitat zones
    • 8 buildings
    • A floating, 7-foot-high stone globe, which rotates on a thin layer of water. The globe is made of quartzite (Azul Macaubus) found in Brazil, with white and bluish tones.
    • Oversized species-themed sculptures and multiple immersive play areas

Rain forest
The Rainforest-themed zone allows “explorers” to discover wildlife that inhabit this unique ecosystem.

  • Key species:
    • Tortoise
    • Caiman
    • Ocelot
    • Tamandua
    • Prehensile tailed porcupine
  • This zone includes:
    • The tortoise habitat with rock spires
    • A dual deck tropical-themed bridge
    • Watery caiman habitat
    • Three ambassador animal habitats viewed from the bridge
    • 2-story Rady Ambassadors Headquarters, home to the Zoo’s wildliufe ambassadors, including a two-toed sloth and a prehensile-tailed porcupine.
    • The 10,000-square-foot McKinney Family Spineless Marvels building includes:
      • Invertebrates—including insects, arachnids and crustaceans=
      • The Migration Flyover experience: A large meadow scene that curves along walls and includes an animated domed ceiling featuring various insects, including migrating monarch butterflies, grasshoppers and dragonflies.
      • An interactive digital game table
      • Naked mole-rat
      • A leafcutter ant colony
      • Coconut crab
      • Spiders
      • Scorpions
      • Stick insects
      • A pollinator experience with giant beeswax-fragrant honeycombs, honey bee sculptures and an observation panel showcasing actual honey bees in their hives
      • Also included are African flower beetles and butterflies.

Desert Dunes
Desert Dunes is a desert-themed landscape area that includes wildlife found in desert regions.

  • Key species:
    • Burrowing owl
    • Fennec fox
    • Prairie dog
  • This zone features:
    • Burrowing owl habitat
    • Multiple kid-sized play sculptures, including a desert rain frog and a desert chameleon
    • Climbing experiences and a cave.

Wild Woods
Wild Woods is a woodland-themed zone.

  • Key species:
    • Squirrel monkey
    • Coati
  • This zone includes:
    • Prebys Foundation Discovery Bridge
    • A 20-foot-tall “oak tree” dynamic nature-play structure
    • Suspension bridge
    • Net tunnel
    • Spiral staircase, adjacent to the squirrel monkey habitat
    • A boulder scramble
    • Water play experience, including a waterfall grotto
    • Play stream that flows from a waterfall through the bluffs, to the stone bridge
    • Jump jets and fog jets
    • Three circular water wall jets challenge.

Marsh Meadows
Marsh Meadows is designed with an array of plant life designed to evoke a variety of habitats, such as marshes, swamps and estuaries.

  • Key species:
    • Turtles
    • A myriad of fish
    • Dwarf crocodiles.
  • This zone features:
    • Outdoor watery habitat that contains a multitude of aquatic wildlife
    • Themed pathways that include silhouettes of kid-size frogs and fish.
    • The 7,000 square-foot Art and Danielle Engel Cool Critters building—a two-story herpetology and Ichthyology structure
      • The Cool Critters building includes immersive environments, digital media and learning opportunities for guests of all ages.
      • Fijian iguana habitat
      • Snakes
      • Amphibians
      • Crocodilians
      • Lizards
      • An Interactive digital game table
      • Two learning labs for school groups
      • Underwater-themed experience.

Busy Bee Café is the Zoo's newest eatery.

  • Located at the entrance to Basecamp
  • Items offered include:
    • Hand dipped honey corn dogs
    • Specialty burgers (including vegetarian options)
    • Pizza
    • Chicken wings
    • Soft serve ice cream
    • Chicken Caesar salad
    • Fresh fruit bowls with yogurt side

Architects have incorporated state-of-the-art sustainable materials as part of the design.

  • Building materials include:
    • Wall and/or roof panels made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE)—a fluorine-based plastic that is created to be more resistant to corrosion—new to the world of habitat design.
    • ETFE is a 100% recyclable, and consists of a series of custom-sized Teflon multilayered “air pillows”—which, when filled with air, provide solar insulation while also reducing the need for artificial lighting. 


  • Denny Sanford is the largest donor in cumulative gifts to San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
  • Since 2013, Sanford has funded San Diego Zoo Wildlife Explorers channel—a television channel broadcast primarily in medical facilities that serve pediatric patients and their families.
  • The channel debuted in 2013 at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
  • It offers entertaining and educational wildlife-oriented content.
  • The channel is now installed in over 360 children’s hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Australia and Pakistan.

Wildlife Explorers Basecamp was made possible by 3,701 donors, with over $88 million raised.

  • Foundational gifts were given by:
    • Denny Sanford
    • Ernest and Evelyn Rady
    • he McKinney family
    • The Conrad Prebys Foundation
    • The Una Davis family
    • The Bob and Marion Wilson family
    • Art and Danielle Engel
    • The Hervey Family Fund at The San Diego Foundation
    • The Zuest family


San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is a nonprofit international conservation leader, committed to inspiring a passion for nature and creating a world where all life thrives. The Alliance empowers people from around the globe to support their mission to conserve wildlife through innovation and partnerships. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance supports cutting-edge conservation and brings the stories of their work back to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park—giving millions of guests, in person and virtually, the opportunity to experience conservation in action. The work of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance extends from San Diego to strategic and regional conservation “hubs” across the globe, where their strengths—via their “Conservation Toolbox,” including the renowned Wildlife Biodiversity Bank—are able to effectively align with hundreds of regional partners to improve outcomes for wildlife in more coordinated efforts. By leveraging these tools in wildlife care and conservation science, and through collaboration with hundreds of partners, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has reintroduced more than 44 endangered species to native habitats. Each year, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s work reaches over 1 billion people in 150 countries via news media, social media, their websites, educational resources and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Explorers, which is in children’s hospitals in 13 countries. Success is made possible by the support of members, donors and guests to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, who are Wildlife Allies committed to ensuring All Life Thrives.  



Link includes:

  • Video depicting the new Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp habitat and its wildlife at the San Diego Zoo
  • Photos of the wildlife inside Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the San Diego Zoo (animals and plants)