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Charles Paddock Zoo’s red panda exhibit gets upgraded 

Charles Paddock Zoo

This rendering shows what the new red panda exhibit could look like once it’s built out.

Thelma Vetter estate donates new exhibit

Continuing with the Charles Paddock Zoo’s master plan, approved 5-0 by the Atascadero City Council in 2004, the zoo has received funds for the design and construction of the new red panda exhibit from the estate of the late Thelma Vetter, who lived in Atascadero from 1946 until her death a few years ago. The Atascadero Parks and Recreation Commission recommended approval of the project in February.

“There will be more species  than just red pandas there. … People will be able to go on a journey,” Charles Paddock Zoo Director Alan Baker said. “Our goal is that when enter this exhibit, they’ll feel like they’re entering Endonesia.”

Baker said the exhibit will not only include the red pandas, but also other species from the same area.

“When you walk into it, you’ll be walking into a bamboo forest,” Baker said, adding that there won’t be any caging on the upper levels of the exhibit, though there will be a glass viewing area on the ground level. He did assure the council that while there won’t be caging, the animals will be secured and won’t be able to get out of the exhibit.

The exhibit from concept through completion will paid directly by the estate, as well as overseen by the estate’s trustee, Glen Lewis. At the end of the project, Atascadero City Manager Rachelle Rickard said, the exhibit will be donated to the city.

“[This is] another example of what makes Atascadero great,” Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley said.

Baker added that right now the city is unable to host night events, so lighting is included in this project so it opens the city up to a new revenue stream. Lewis said that to save the city money, he is looking at making the project first-class but not cost a lot to maintain.

“At this point in time we’re looking for the council to bless this plan so the estate can donate [additional funds to move forward],” Atascadero City Planner Alfredo Castillo said. He said work on the exhibit will begin sometime in late spring. While he said it should take three to four months to complete the project, Lewis said that a timeframe of nine months to a year is more reasonable.

The new exhibit would create:

  • A new exhibit for the Red Pandas that is larger than the current one.
  • A habitat area that re-creates the animal’s natural habitat.
  • A multi-species exhibit that allows the Zoo to display several different species from the same geographic area in one comprehensive exhibit.
  • Three new viewing areas designed to increase visitor understanding and to educate visitors on the animals and their habitat.
  • A high-quality exhibit that further strengthens the goals of creating an “event center” at the zoo.


The council reaffirmed its goals to for 2013-15 for 2015-17, which include promoting the Atascadero Lake Park, Pavilion on the Lake and Faces of Freedom Veterans’ Memorial and Charles Paddock Zoo. To achieve that goal, the city has pursued projects such as:

  • Zoo electrical upgrade project, which is in progress and necessary for the red panda exhibit
  • New flamingo exhibit, which has been completed
  • New roof on lemur holding area, which has been completed
  • Madagascar radiated tortoise exhibit, which is in progress
  • Major rehabilitation of the aviary exhibit, which is in progress
  • New toucan exhibit, which is in progress

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