For the past 17 years, Charles Paddock Zoo Director Alan Baker has been a big part of making sure the zoo remains one of the biggest attractions in the area and the passion he shows for his work is undeniable.
“I always tell people I have the best job in the world,” Baker said. “I get to work with some incredible animals.”
Baker, a New York native, originally came to California’s Central Coast to attend Cal Poly and work on his Master’s Degree in biology. After completing school, Baker was hired by the California Department of Fish and Game to work on their sea otter project before budget cuts forced Baker and many others to find employment elsewhere. Reluctantly, he went to work at the Fresno Zoo as a reptile keeper, never expecting to remain
in zoo work.
Baker said once he realized what working in a zoo was all about and how passionate he was about the conservation of animals, it forever changed the course of his life.
He had the unique opportunity to help restore the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York where he worked his way up to Senior Zoo Keeper before moving back to California for a job as Zoo Supervisor at the Sacramento Zoo.
Then, as fate would have it, the Zoo Director position became available at our very own Charles Paddock Zoo.
Currently, Baker is responsible for all aspects of animal care, finance, maintenance, security and educational programs related to the zoo which is one of only about 214 American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) accredited zoos in the United States out of 6,000 zoological entities in total.
Every five years, the zoo must undergo a thorough review that involves a several-hundred-page questionnaire, a three-day inspection of the zoo and requires Baker to appear before about 20 AZA-appointed members to answer further questions and wait for a vote as to whether or not the zoo will be accredited for another five years. It is a rigorous process that never truly ends — just as one round is done, it is time to prepare for the next review.
“We’re very proud to say our zoo has been accredited for over 25 years, never losing our accreditation and we were just accredited again this year in April,” Baker said. “It’s a huge hurdle for us but it’s worth it because that puts us in a special category that makes us a real zoo.”
Baker said there are many things in store for the future of the zoo which he describes as a living, ever-changing entity. He would like to see the zoo become more broadly recognized which would allow for more funding to make all the changes he has envisioned for the zoo.
“It’s incredibly unique that the City of Atascadero can fund [the zoo] but it also puts a huge onus on the City,” Baker said. “We’re the zoo for Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, but the only one who gives funding is Atascadero. So, we would like the zoo to be perceived as more of a regional zoo. We have so many things we want to do here, so many new plans, so many new animals that we’re waiting to bring in and it’s always funding that’s stopping us. We just think our future is getting out ahead of this and controlling our own destiny.