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Zoo Gone Wild

The Oakland Zoo's expansion into Knowland Park would destroy rare habitat and cut off public access to open space. Can opponents stop the project before it's too late?

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"There is plenty of room for them to get their expansion, without taking more public parkland," Baker told me on the drive over to the zoo, noting that most zoos, which aren't located next to wildland parks, find other ways to grow and change and truly promote conservation.

Hanson pointed out that some zoos have built conservation exhibits focused on native species that are endangered today — such as the Santa Barbara Zoo's "California Trails" exhibit, which features animals at risk of disappearing from the state forever due to habitat destruction. The Oakland Zoo California Trail, by contrast, would display animals that have already mostly disappeared from the region because of habitat destruction.

At one point during our zoo trip, we stumbled upon a large banner advertising the California Trail expansion, located in the spot where visitors will get on the gondola. "Embark on the Adventure!" the sign read, featuring images of a grizzly bear and mountain lion and explaining that this is where visitors will begin their "California Trail journey."

They will ride the gondola to the park hilltop where they will arrive at a visitor center and restaurant with bay views. From there, they can stop at a San Francisco Bay overlook, the banner read.

"We can do that any day of the week without having to get on a gondola," Baker said. "It's like selling air, you know?"

Staring at the large banner, looking up toward Knowland Park in the background, Hanson read aloud one part of the sign that he thought was particularly absurd: "'IMAGINE the Bay Area in its natural state.'"

"You're going to have to imagine it," he said with a laugh, "because it will be gone."

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