The San Diego Zoo houses one of the world’s largest collections of rare and endangered animals. We look at some important facts about the zoo, from its humble beginnings to its recent additions that drew more than 4 million visitors in 2018.
San Diego Zoological Society was established in 1916
The zoo was initially a temporary attraction, opened as part of the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. The small-scale operation comprised 32 large cages displayed along Park Boulevard, featuring a variety of exotic creatures, including monkeys, hyenas, leopards, wolves, and kangaroos.
A few of these animals were on loan from Wonderland Amusement Park, which went out of business following the year-long exposition. This left a variety of exotic species in need of a new home.
A local physician, Dr. Harry Wegeforth, came up with the idea of setting up a permanent zoo. Through his relentless efforts, Wegeforth raised funds within the local community, incorporating the San Diego Zoological Society on November 17, 1916, with Wegeforth named president.
San Diego’s temperate climate makes it an ideal zoo location
Because of the city’s year-round warm weather, it is the ideal spot for an outdoor facility, sparing organizers the need for winter housing or heating.
The zoo permanently moved to Balboa Park in 1923
The move was largely facilitated by a donation of $9,000 by Ellen Browning Scripps in 1921, financing the construction of fencing around the grounds. This allowed the San Diego Zoological Society to begin charging admission fees (entrance had been free until this point). At the grand opening of the zoo in 1923, adult admission cost 10 cents with free admittance for children.
The San Diego Zoo covers more than 100 acres
It also features over 3,500 animals from 650 species and subspecies, and over 700,000 exotic plants.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park covers 1,800 acres of the San Pasqual Valley
Situated near Escondido, California, the Safari Park is a sanctuary home to over 3,000 animals from 300 species and subspecies. Its botanical collection features more than 1.75 million plants from 3,500 species.
San Diego Zoo Global manages the zoo
This nonprofit organization also operates the safari park. San Diego Zoo Global’s mission is to protect and save species worldwide by combining its knowledge of animal care and conservation science with its passion for protecting animals, serving animals under its care as well as those living in the wild.
There are different ways to catch a glimpse of the animals at the zoo
The Skyfari Aerial Tram offers impressive views of the zoo, arboretum, and surrounding park. Alternatively, there is a 35-minute guided bus tour, allowing visitors to view exhibits from an open-air double-decker bus.
The zoo is home to a diverse range of wildlife
Gorilla Forest is a shady wooded area where visitors can watch silverbacks in a specially recreated environment overseeing their young as they swing from ropes and trees.
Northern Frontier features three playful polar bears, while Koalas in the Outback is one of the zoo’s newest exhibits, offering hands-on experience of this favorite marsupial.
Africa Rocks boasts colorful birds, leopards, crocodiles, and lemurs, as well as a special underground aquarium area for the penguins.
The San Diego Zoo received more than 4 million visitors in 2018
That same year, San Diego Safari Park received 1.5 million visitors. Zoo officials attribute the surge in popularity to the opening of new exhibits Africa Rocks and Walkabout Australia. Zoo director Dwight Scott told reporters he hoped the increase in revenue might help fund the zoo’s future conservation efforts.
San Diego Zoo Global is the world’s largest zoological membership association
The zoo began offering annual membership in 1916, priced at $5 for a single adult member. Today, San Diego Zoo Global has 130,000 child members and over 250,000 member households.
The San Diego Zoo is committed to protecting rare and endangered animals
In 1975 Dr. Kurt Benirschke spearheaded the opening of the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES), an organization committed to preserving endangered animals.
In 2004 the San Diego Zoo unveiled the Arnold and Mable Beckman Center at its sister site, the Wild Animal Park, bringing along CRES. Here, the role of CRES expanded. In addition to serving as an internally focused operation designed to protect the reproductive health of the zoo’s collection, it began conducting field research on species in their natural habitat and protecting their environment through conservation efforts in the wild.
Today, CRES is known as the Institute for Conservation Research (ICR). From an initial team of five, ICR now boasts more than 150 scientists who work within nine separate departments, both within the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, as well as field stations in 35 countries.
The research at ICR covers a broad scope of conservation efforts
ICR’s research team tackles issues ranging from pregnancy concerns to hormones, while its genetic division houses the “Frozen Zoo,” where fibroblasts and genetic material from more than 1,000 different species are stored in special freezers to ensure endangered species survival.
The San Diego Zoo has worked with conservationists on numerous programs around the world, assisting with the successful reintroduction to the wild of more than 30 threatened species.