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Meet David Riherd of Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Riherd.

Thanks for sharing your story with us David. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
WLC was founded in 1998 by biologists Paul Hahn and me to provide public education in the life sciences, conservation, and our environment and to care for wild animals that need life-long care. As our organization evolved, and more and more people learned about us, we started receiving more and more requests to give homes to wild animals in need. Today we have close to 100 animals, demonstrating the need for animal sanctuary. Unfortunately, we can’t give homes to every animal in need because we just do not have the space.

Has it been a smooth road?
It definitely has not been a smooth road. Providing homes to dozens of animals in need of highly specialized care is costly so ongoing fundraising is a constant challenge. We raise money through general admission fees and programs but public support is greatly needed. It costs about $50,000 a month to operate Wildlife Learning Center and we can’t care for these animals without donations.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Wildlife Learning Center story. Tell us more about the business.
Wildlife Learning Center (WLC) is located in Sylmar, California, nestled in an old olive grove. WLC was founded to provide public education in the life sciences, conservation, and the environment. As a wildlife sanctuary, WLC is dedicated to providing life-long care to animals in need. More than 40 different species of displaced, rescued, and zoo-born wild animals call this shady, natural environment home. The WLC staff is a team of 15 biologists with a passion for wildlife and environmental education that gives people of all ages an interactive experience with nature. Each staff member has a degree in biology or environmental science.

What distinguishes WLC from other local animal sanctuaries and zoos is that WLC was founded to teach the life sciences. WLC only employs well-educated staff with degrees in biology. Our curriculum focuses on the Common Core State Standards for Life Sciences.

Mission Statement

To provide public education that inspires people to care for our wildlife, to care for our environment, to develop a deep interest in the life sciences, and to give sanctuary to animals in need.

Specific Objectives

  • To provide natural science education, to heighten the public’s awareness of the environment and to encourage an appreciation for wildlife
  • To enrich the community of Sylmar and surrounding communities with a park for education and recreation
  • To provide a nurturing environment for wildlife in need

Wild Animal Rescue and Sanctuary

Dozens of animals come to Wildlife Learning Center from unfortunate situations. Some animals were confiscated from people who kept them as illegal pets; some owners relinquish a pet because they no longer can or want to care for their animal; and some are rehabilitated animals that are determined to be non-releasable, meaning they cannot survive in the wild. Occasionally, we will acquire an animal from a zoo or wildlife facility that does not have the space and is seeking to transfer that animal to a more suitable situation. For these animals, Wildlife Learning Center becomes their permanent home where they receive life-long care.

Life Science Education

Wildlife Learning Center was founded to provide public education in the life sciences. Each species of animal represents a living example for topics from the Common Core State Standards for Life Sciences. By utilizing wildlife, WLC makes our lessons visual, interesting, and memorable.

Wildlife Learning Center is open to the public seven days a week for visitors to see and learn about wildlife from around the world. Each species of animal contributes to our educational goals and gives the public an opportunity to see and learn about animals they otherwise would not experience. Hourly talks and personal tours give visitors a special opportunity to see animals up-close and to receive in depth information.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
At a time when wild places receive less and less protection, and species are declining and disappearing around the world, we foresee an even greater need to advocate for the protection of wildlife that we all care so much about. Meeting the animals at Wildlife Learning Center animals goes a long way in making a lasting impression on people to care about other living things. We know, because we see it every day.

The black market exotic animal trade is as strong as ever which means there’s going to be a greater need to provide sanctuary to confiscated animals and exotic animal pets that undoubtedly do not work out.

Here at Wildlife Learning Center, we have aspirations to do even more for animals. Along with giving individual animals a home we want to join the effort to preserve whole species of animals. This is why we are planning on joining an international effort to maintain a zoological population of threatened and endangered species. We have already begun collaborating with other zoological institutions in Species Survival Plans that work towards building a genetically diverse population of species housed in facilities around the U.S.

It’s like creating a safety net for a species that are on the verge of extinction. Wildlife Learning Center would become a branch in the genetic bank for threatened and endangered species, where we will hold animals that are a part of the populations for Species Survival Plans. We want to start with just a couple of species of animals but with time, we hope to join in the efforts of saving many more species of animals from extinction.


  • General Admission $10 Adults, $8 Children, Seniors, and Veterans. 2 years and under are free
  • School Assemblies $300 to $575
  • Guided Onsite Tours $250
  • Animal Experiences $25 to $100
  • Birthday Parties $300 to $650

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
David Riherd
Dr. Leah Riherd

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