Following a groundbreaking ceremony at America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College on Nov. 16, the Zoo’s big cats, Neil and Karma, are one step closer to living in an approximately 4,000-square-foot habitat complete with a tiger tunnel connecting two large enclosures. The project will also feature a water installation where they can splash and play in front of Zoo guests and glass viewing areas for visitors.
The event commemorated the start of formal construction for Rajah’s Retreat Tiger Exhibit and Habitat, the $3.5 million sanctuary for the Bengal tigers. Planning began in 2017 when Neil and Karma arrived at the Zoo. Each weighed around 50 pounds; today, Neil and Karma are 375 and 275 pounds, respectively.
“When completed, Rajah’s Retreat will be the embodiment of the dreams of our students, faculty and staff brought to life through the support of our community members and business partners,” said Moorpark College President Julius Sokenu.
Guests included Ventura County Community College District Board Vice Chair Dianne B. McKay, Trustee Stan Mantooth and Chancellor Greg Gillespie. Other special guests included Grammy-nominated performing artist John Ondrasik (Five for Fighting) and his family and Moorpark College leadership and donors.
“I have been to the Zoo countless times over the years and always have been impressed with the caliber of the students and staff. This new exhibit is to be celebrated for how it prioritizes the majestic cats’ quality of life and provides the community with an opportunity to learn about the tigers,” said McKay.
“Growing America’s Teaching Zoo to provide our animals with more naturalistic enclosures is high on our priority list,” added Mara Rodriguez, zoo development coordinator. “Completing the lion exhibit earlier this year and launching the construction of the tiger habitat within months of each other is an indicator that our goals are attainable and that the animals will continue to thrive under our care.”
Following remarks, the group held a “Golden Shovel” ceremony to acknowledge major gifts from Moorpark College and other donors, as well as the hundreds of contributions from the community who helped fulfill the long-awaited dream of building a retreat for the tigers.
Ondrasik and his wife, Carla, are regular Zoo patrons, and their son attends Moorpark College. In September, the couple hosted “Concert for the Cats” at the college. The live, outdoor concert raised more than $50,000 for the project, which is expected to be completed in June 2022.
Amador Whittle Architects in Agoura Hills designed the 8,700-square-foot development that will be constructed by the Bedrock Group Inc., La Canada Flintridge.
“The Exotic Animal Training Management program and America’s Teaching Zoo provide wildlife education and model animal conservation practices for children and adults. Learning in the new tiger habitat will prepare our students for careers in high-wage, high-skill employment in zoos, wildlife rehabilitation centers and aquariums,” said Sokenu.
For more information about supporting the tigers, America’s Teaching Zoo or questions about visiting the Zoo, go to zoo.moorparkcollege.edu or call (805) 378-1441.