January 29, 2023
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Santa Barbara Zoo gets $140K gift from area Toyota


The Santa Barbara Zoo’s conservation programs have received a donation of three 2014 4Runners from area Gold Coast Toyota Dealers to be used for field work focused on endangered species including the California condor.

“Today we are celebrating an enormous boost forward for our field conservation program,” the zoo’s chief executive, Rich Block, said Tuesday at a press conference to officially accept the vehicles.

The three 2014 4Runner 4×4 Trail Edition vehicles are valued at “about $47,000 each,” said Mike Caldwell, president of the Gold Coast Toyota Dealers Association and general manager of Toyota of Santa Barbara, making the donation worth about $140,000. The other Gold Coast Toyota dealerships are in Ventura, Oxnard, Lompoc, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

“We see Toyota as an environmentally friendly, conscious manufacturer, and I think this is a partnership that could last for decades to come,” Caldwell said in an interview.

The zoo’s collaboration with Toyota, called Wild 4Conservation, will provide transportation for more field conservation staff and researchers into the rugged Ventura County back-country to monitor nesting of wild California condors. The vehicles also will be used for other programs, including those related to the Channel Island fox and endangered amphibians such as the red-legged frog.

“Gold Coast Toyota Dealers stepped up right at a time of critical need,” Block said.

The condor conservation program has grown, Estelle Sandhaus, the zoo’s director of conservation and research, said in a statement. “We need more people in the field during the busy condor nesting season when nests are being observed almost daily,” she said. “The rugged conditions require vehicles that can handle tough terrain and back roads in addition to freeway driving, and the new 4Runner is perfect for that.”

The vehicles, on display at the zoo Tuesday during the private event, have been “wrapped” with large, colorful photographs of endangered animals the zoo works with in the field. One features California condors, another Channel Island foxes and the third amphibians from the Los Padres National Forest.

What Block described as billboards on wheels are “a great way to elevate the image of the conservation program,” he said, adding that they also highlight the partnership with Toyota.

Block approached Gold Coast Toyota about six months ago after spending almost two years trying to identify a partner. At that time, the zoo had only one primary field vehicle. He said the current collaboration has exceeded his expectations.

“One of the things that’s been the most rewarding is how the Toyota people really stepped up and got into this,” he said. “They are really on board. They literally jumped in with both feet.”

He added that their relationship is “such a great model of business engaging with nonprofit.”

Both Caldwell and Block said that more is to come from the partnership. “We haven’t even seen yet all of the ways this is going to grow and develop,” Block said. “This is just the beginning.”