The Coast News Group
Rubber Ducky, a red-foot tortoise, is one of 200 animals at the EcoVivarium Living Museum. Courtesy photo

Escondido’s EcoVivarium plans big expansion during 10th anniversary

ESCONDIDO — Ten years ago, four people had the dream of saving reptiles, amphibians and other creatures, while also educating the public about their unique traits. Today, the dream has transformed into the EcoVivarium Living Museum, a space that’s home to 200 animals frequented by thousands of visitors.

But, leaders behind the unique Escondido space have even bigger plans this year. In 2020, the museum and its reptiles will move from a small building on Juniper Street to the popular Grand Avenue in downtown Escondido, providing a space that’s three times the size, said Susan Nowicke, president of the EcoVivarium Living Museum.

Nowicke, who was one of the four founders of the EcoVivarium, said the museum has grown tremendously since starting as a mobile attraction 10 years ago. It will continue to grow with new programs in the new year, she said.

“The current museum location was a grassroots effort made from a combination of new and reclaimed lumber, reclaimed glass from office buildings and fences, and lots of good old-fashioned hard work,” Nowicke said. “We had entire families pitching in, doing everything from materials collection to the actual construction. There are some great memories here, and we look forward to many more years of memories at the new location.”

Nowicke said 98% of the animals were rescued. The nearly 10,000-square-foot space the museum will move into this spring will allow for more exhibits and more programs such as the first “Bio-STEAM Lab” she said.

“Our collective excitement is beyond words,” Nowicke said. “The new space will allow for more elaborate enclosures to improve the lives of ambassadors on display and provide more space so we can accommodate larger tour groups, schools, and visitors from around the world in a spacious and relaxed environment.”

The museum’s leaders also plan to showcase artifacts and art aimed at enhancing the educational experience for visitors. More room will also allow for more interaction between the animals and guests, Nowicke said.

“History and cultural lessons come to life when you’re holding a living creature that connects you to it,” Nowicke said. “We are very excited to open doors to people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to learn about the world we live in, the impact we have on it, and the role its inhabitants play in our lives. It is through that connection we will grow the next generation of the planet’s stewards.”

Donald Carl, museum manager, said he began volunteering for the EcoVivarium in 2016 and immediately fell in love with the animals. He hopes the museum’s 10th year will allow for the organization to further thrive as it fulfills its mission of educating the public while caring for the animals.

“We offer a one of a kind interaction with animals that most people know very little about,” Carl said. “I am even learning more and more as I interact with the animals one on one. I hope to see more people with similar passions for these animals and for them to share it with their friends and family.”

However, moving into a larger space with new programs will require more of the museum’s team of four employees and roughly 20 volunteers. Nowicke said the museum currently costs $17,190 to operate but will increase to $36,560 when it moves into the new downtown space.

“As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking, and it will require strong support from our community, businesses, and grantors,” Nowicke said. “When it is all done, it will be a cutting-edge facility attracting visitors from around the world into the hotspot historic downtown Escondido district and serving and educating students throughout the region.”

Nowicke said the public can support the EcoVivarium and its animals by visiting the museum, being a member or sponsor.

For now, the founder of the EcoVivarium is thankful for its current team that has helped the museum in the last decade.

“Here at the museum, volunteers are involved in everything from animal care to marketing, web design to education, grant research and writing, literacy outreach to bookkeeping, social media, networking, business relations and maintenance,” Nowicke said. “A museum provides a wealth of opportunities to explore in terms of careers, and we are always looking for dedicated individuals.”

For more information about the EcoVivarium Living Museum, go to

Editors Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the museum is moving into a 3,000 square foot space. The Coast News regrets the error.