The Santa Barbara Zoo has launched a new interactive, hand-held multimedia tour.

The patent-pending Zoo Ranger is about twice the size of an iPhone and delivers informative and entertaining full-color videos, audio, photography and animation. Speakers are mounted on both sides, so earphones aren’t needed. The tour includes about 18 points of interest throughout the zoo and offers a closer look at many of the zoos most interesting species.

“It’s amazing,” zoo CEO Rich Block said. “At predetermined GPS (global-positioning-satellite) points in the park, Zoo Ranger automatically triggers. As you’re walking past the snow leopard exhibit — boom –— the device starts up and guests can learn even more about these amazing creatures and how we care for them.”

Director of guest services Dave Velasque said: “We’re only the fourth zoo in the world to feature this technology.”

The sleek device features a four-inch LCD touch screen and can be enjoyed by several visitors at once with its dual-speaker stereo system. Zoo Ranger can be rented from the Zoo Store for the preview price of $5.95 until Oct. 31; after that date, the rental price is $9.95 for the public and $5.95 for zoo members.

Zoo Ranger takes audio tours to the next level by adding video and games to the normal audio wands that have become prevalent at major galleries and historic sites. The Santa Barbara Zoo’s Zoo Ranger includes animal identifications, fun facts and interactive trivia where visitors can earn points by answering questions about the animals, exhibits and video segments. A dynamic zoo map shows where visitors are in relation to other points of interest and facilities.

“This self -guided multimedia tour device gives visitors a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo that’s the closest thing to a personal tour with a zookeeper,” Block said.

The tour includes about 18 points of interest throughout the zoo and offers a closer look at many of the zoos most interesting species. Some highlights of the tour are:

» Giant anteaters and footage of some of the 25 baby anteaters that have been born at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

» Chinese alligators, the reptile equivalent of icebergs, with 90 percent of their bodies submerged under water most of the day, and an interesting story about how the protective mothers keep their young safe — in their mouths.

» Lemurs, the Madagascar natives who have a tendency to mark their territories and may even have a “stink fight” with other lemurs.

» The Amur leopard, the rarest of all the big cats and now found only in a single mountain range in Southern Russia.

» Asian elephants and how their keepers keep the naturally curious animals engaged with new scents and toys added to their yard daily.

» Humbolt penguins, unlike their stereotypical cold-weather counterparts, are well-suited to the hot California climate as they come from a similar environment on the coast of Chile and Peru.

» The future California Trails exhibit focuses on the Condor Recovery Program in which the zoo collaborates other organizations to help ensure the survival of this highly endangered species.

Julia McHugh represents the Santa Barbara Zoo.