by Nicole Pope
For a very long time, Santiago Zoo was the one and only zoo to be found in the entire peninsula of Baja California in Mexico. However, the Santiago is not just a zoo, it is the zoo. There are several features of this Baja zoo that makes it such a wonderful place to visit and to support.
Unknown to most people, there is a place in Baja California called Baja East Cape. This cape is located at the southeastern portion of the peninsula, starting somewhere in La Paz and running almost 70 miles south. What makes Baja East Cape so notable is the fact that its environment is virtually untouched and magnificently natural. Regardless of the fact that most cities and municipalities in Baja are tourist towns and commercial districts, the East Cape remains to be left pure and natural. It is here, in a small town called Santiago which is located along the East Cape, that the Santiago Zoo can be found.
The first time I have ever visited the village of Santiago, I felt as if I have traveled back to a time and place unknown to us who have been born in the twentieth century. The village is an agricultural community, in the literal sense. The livelihood of its inhabitants rely on harvesting and planting, and each and every household contributes and participates all that they can for the betterment of the entire village. An Eden-like orchard can be found in the village. Here, perfectly round mango trees with dusty leaves, fresh smelling citrus trees, and vibrant green papaya trees laden with ripe orange papayas lend their beauty and fragrance to the entire village. And as expected in any place in Baja, the orchard also has several interesting species of cacti of different shapes, textures and colors.
It is also here in the village of Santiago that I unexpectedly came across the Santiago Zoo. Instantly, something about this zoo will touch your heart. The entire zoo of Santiago is run mostly by children. I do not mean that children often come to pet and feed the animals such as what you would expect in a petting zoo. Children from the village would come to the zoo to care for the animals, including feeding, observing, treating, and even cleaning up after them. Since video games and television sets are luxuries that many homes in this village are not fortunate enough to afford, the children find recreation and enjoyment amidst the plants in the orchard, animals in the zoo, and other children in the village.
The Zoo Santiago of Baja California houses deers, mountain lions, leopards, foxes, coyotes, a bear, a tiger and a lion. There are also plenty of small little critters housed in the Santiago zoo. You can see possums, ground hogs, raccoons, rabbits and even little monkeys. There are also several species of birds in the zoo. There are peacocks, ostriches, parrots, eagles, falcons, hawks, and other small species of birds. There are also a couple of reptiles such as snakes, salamanders, iguanas, turtles and geckos. Some of these animals have been donated to the zoo and plenty have been adopted by the zoo after they were found injured and abandoned somewhere.
Regardless of the attention and care that the village of Santiago gives the animals in the zoo, it comes as no surprise that the zoo continues to lack funds and support in order to keep the animals healthy and happy. Many tourists and animal welfare groups who are aware of the existence and present condition of the Santiago Zoo in Baja have kindly and generously given much needed donations and support and hopefully, many people will also do the same.