Wild Wonders Bonsall, California
Wild Wonders is a small, ZAA “accredited” private company near San Diego, California formerly called Zoofari. Wild Wonders is owned by Jackie Navarro and offers “Hands-on Wildlife Education and Conservation” by selling “animal encounters, tours, and educational programs” with small exotic species. The company has been around since 1991 and has worked with Steve Irwin, Jack Hanna, the Discovery Channel, and Animal Planet to exploit wild animals for their traveling programs.
Wild Wonders primarily does educational programs with live animals at birthday parties, schools, and other events, and their website also boasts that they “offer a comprehensive range of animals for hire for use in Film, TV, Advertising, and Still Photography. Most of the animals we use are owned by Wild Wonders. However if we don’t have what you’re looking for, Wild Wonders has access to hundreds of different species via our network of animal experts throughout the country.”
On Instagram, Wild Wonders recently posted a photo of their new serval kitten (no mention of where it came from) saying that he can be seen during a “Cat Training 101” tour — this apparently entails watching keepers do operant conditioning training with servals and lynx. Wild Wonders allows paying guests to pose near a cheetah for photo-ops, and their Instagram feed has pictures of staff walking the cats on leashes, snuggling them, and generally treating them like pets, which sends the wrong message that it is okay for humans to mistreat wild animals (especially since most of their ambassador animals were confiscated illegal pets to begin with).
The only reason roadside zoos like Wild Wonders rent out their animals is to make money, even though owner Jackie Navarro stating in an interview that “you’re not going to conserve animals in cages. Breeding a gorilla in captivity doesn’t necessarily help the animals in their natural habitats.”
In 2019 Wild Wonders rented a serval kitten, bingurong, and zebra to National Wildlife Federation’s animal handler David Mizejewski for a television appearance on the Ellen Show. We hope Wild Wonders is just misguided in their practice of renting out cute baby wildlife on leashes to TV shows for “education.” Not only is it exploitative of the animal (which should probably be with its mother) it sends mixed messages to viewers and only makes people want to touch the animal, own it as a pet, or believe that the species isn’t threatened in the wild.
We are also very suspicious about the mysterious “network” of animal providers that Wild Wonders brokers media appearances with — third-party animal booking agents are frequently utilized by particularly abusive breeders and trainers, even those with revoked USDA licenses, because it helps them cover their tracks and lets them hide behind the clean record of whatever booking group they’re working under.There is evidence (on page 72 of this PDF) that in 2013, Navarro worked with Lisa Limbert, a private exotic animal owner/exhibitor from Arizona, to exhibit an armadillo at a gas station and a public park. A FOIA request of Limbert’s USDA records revealed a longstanding pattern of buying newborn exotics without fully understanding their care, subjecting the animals to excessive handling, cuddling, and “decorating” by groups of children at programs (which may have contributed to the premature death of a baby armadillo) and keeping them in small cages to make them “better ambassadors.” Limbert has been cited multiple times for inappropriate housing, veterinary care, and handling of animals, and has claimed that she would rather transfer an animal to her “ZAA buddies” than to a legitimate sanctuary. It’s likely that the network of animal providers Navarro uses are also affiliated with the ZAA, so they could include Doc Antle or any other substandard roadside zoo/breeder.
Finally, it’s very concerning that Wild Wonders openly advertises as one of their “services” the ability to broker live animals for corporate events and party props.Their website states:
“Why not invite “TRUE” party animals for your clients’ event. Our animal ambassadors make a unique and beautiful addition to any event. We can work with groups of 10-10,000 people. Planning a safari theme? We can provide anything from tigers to zebras. Arabian nights? Camels always complete the mood! Christmas Event? Our winter wonderland can include Penguins to reindeer. Our India themes can include Pythons to elephants.”
“Does your corporate logo feature an animal? Let us provide a real one for your next gathering.”
- Animals are available for company picnics, festivals, evening theme setters, movie premieres, etc.
- Animals will attend events until 9pm
There is absolutely nothing “educational” or appropriate about pimping out tigers, penguins, elephants, or any other wild animal as living party props, and any facility which is willing to rent out animals for this purpose probably isn’t a good place. This is clearly just a way for Wild Wonders to make money, and there are much more ethical ways to raise funds than by exploiting animals to do it.