Hesperia Zoo features film, television starring animals, struggles with regulators
HESPERIA • Aslan lives in the Victor Valley.
More specifically, Truman, the lion used to create the animations for the noble lion in the Chronicles of Narnia movies, lives at the Hesperia Zoo on Willow Street.
Stephanie Taunton, owner of Hesperia Zoo, makes her living off her animals’ appearances in films, television shows and in print ads, and runs the zoo as a sideline.
“We would survive without the zoo, but I do it because I love it.”
Zoo animals also make appearances in local events, including the Hesperia Days Parade on Sept. 17 and are the highlight of zoo camps each summer.
But keeping the 150-plus animals on her property, including great cats, to a camel, wolves, exotic birds and wallabies, means she’s under the scrutiny of multiple county, state and federal agencies.
“Some inspectors are more difficult than others,” she said. “We’re not perfect. There’s times we forgot a salt lick” in an enclosure.
In 2006, the zoo came under scrutiny from the US Department of Agriculture when Tango, the zoo’s tiger, “took a walk” after it got out of its cage during cleaning.
“All our cages have shut-out areas instead of trying to hose them from the outside.”
A keeper failed to properly secure one of the shutout locks while moving to another area inside the cage, and the tiger nosed his way out and wandered around the zoo’s large animal enclosure. The California Department of Fish and Game judged it to be human error, and not a systemic failure in the zoo’s set-up, according to Taunton.
“I put a leash on him and walked him back to his cage because he wouldn’t go down with the tranqs.”
Now all cleanings are done by staff members specially trained on the proper use of the shutout locks, she said, or less-trained employees just fill in by hosing the big cat’s enclosures down from the outside as an interim measure.
The USDA has also cited them for having what the inspector said was an inadequately secured cage for their male baboon. Although Taunton disagrees, they made the changes anyway.
“It’s all resolved, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a license right now.”
Taunton and her staff were in Sacramento earlier this year, arguing against yet more regulation, this time from the Department of Fish and Game.
“They’re basically just taking the industry and through,” Taunton made a choking motion with both hands, “chasing them out.”
Although she acknowledges that there is a need for a certain level of scrutiny, Taunton says her zoo’s track record speaks for itself.
“We’ve got well over 150 animals here and we’ve had no problems with sick or unhealthy animals,” she said. “We’ve never had an animal bite or scratch anyone.”
Victor Valley residents will be able to see Tango out of his cage and on the small screen this fall, when the tiger appears on an episode of the NBC sitcom “Parks & Recreation” this fall. (The tiger also appeared in the March issue of Vanity Fair, in a photo with movie producer Peter Guber.)
The zoo’s Twilight Tours event end Tuesday, Sept. 6, but October will bring Halloween-themed flashlight tours of the zoo at dusk.
For more information on the Hesperia Zoo, visit TheHesperiaZoo.com or call (760) 948-9430.
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com.