The Panama American Exposition was held 1915-1916 in Balboa Park. Today it is a large urban cultural park with over 15 museums, gardens, performance venues, and the San Diego Zoo. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the Zoo was founded by Dr. Harry Wegeforth with several animals (most notably a lion) left over from a zoo exhibit from the Exposition.
The founders began building open air grottos as habitats for the animals, a new style of exhibit at the time from Germany in the 1920s. By 1923, they began charging an admission fee (10 cents). The same year elephants and other exotic animals arrived by ship from San Francisco. In 1925, koalas and other animals indigenous to Australia were added to the growing number of exhibits. In 1927 Belle Benchley became the zoo director and continued in that role until 1953 (the first woman in that role in any zoo at the time).
Today the zoo is home to 3,500 rare and endangered animals representing 650+ species/sub-species as well as a collection of over 700,000 botanical plants. The Zoo opened the 1,800-acre Wild Animal Park (located about 30 miles away) in 1972. We have not yet visited it but plan to while we are in the San Diego area.
Admission to the zoo is a hefty $50/adults and $40/children ages 3-11. We had a coupon for $5/off. Included in the admission fee is the Guided Bus Tour, Kangaroo Express Bus (visitors can get on/off at designated stops), the Skyfari Aerial Tram, and all regularly-scheduled shows. As is recommended we began our visit with the Guided Bus Tour that lasted about 40 minutes. This is a great way to see about 65% of the zoo from a double-decker, open-air bus.
This post covers just a small fraction of the amazing animals we saw. The first hippos arrived at the zoo in 1936 and continue to thrive here.
The first elephants arrived by ship in 1923. The zoo did not have the means to transport them to the zoo for the dock, so they were ridden through the streets to the zoo! Today Asian and African elephants share the same habitat in harmony.
Camels from the zoo have been loaned to the entertainment industry for various movies that were filmed in the nearby deserts of southwestern Arizona.
The adorable baby giraffe (seated on right) was born in December, 2015. He is the 162nd giraffe born at the San Diego Zoo since they were added to the collection in 1938. Giraffes are usually 6' tall at birth and weight in at 100-150 pounds. This guy was small (5' 3") but is healthy and doing well.
Lions and tigers!
Takins are related to sheep and goats but look at bit like a combination wildebeest and moose. Native to China, they and giant pandas are considered national treasures by the Chinese. The first takin arrived in San Diego in 1988.
In 1971, Grevy's Zebras joined the zoo family. There are multiple zebra subspecies, but this is the only one considered endangered due to anthrax outbreaks. 68 have been born in captivity at San Diego Zoos, 2 in 2015.
Two koalas (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie) arrived by ship from Australia (along with other species native to the continent) in 1925. The San Diego Zoo has the largest koala colony and most successful breeding program outside of Australia. They were napping (as they frequently do) when we visited and are a bit difficult to see.
Mother, Indah, and baby Aisha orangutans. These playful creatures are always entertaining.
Meerkats, although they resemble prairie dogs, are relatives of the mongoose.
Native to south central Asia, the red panda is a relative to the well-known black and white giant panda.
In 1996, the San Diego Zoo and China worked out a loan agreement for two giant pandas, Bai Yun and Shi Shi. According to the arrangement, any resulting offspring are returned to China when they are 3 years old. Bai Yun had no interest in Shi Shi, so a trade was made for a different male, Gao Gao.
Bai Yun is a phenomenal mom having given birth to 6 of the 13 surviving giant panda cubs in the US. The first one was conceived by artificial insemination, but the next 5 were conceived by natural mating with Gao Gao. Pandas are in season only once per year and are very particular about their mates. At age 23, Bai Yun is believed to be beyond child-bearing age.
Their son, Xiao Liwu, born in 2013 is just adorable. There was (and usually is) a large crowd near his cage to watch his antics.
There are only about 1,850 giant pandas worldwide with 300 in captivity in reserves in China. They can be found in only four zoos in the US: San Diego (3 pandas); National Zoo in Washington, DC (3); Atlanta Zoo (4); and Memphis Zoo (2).
The first snow leopard arrived at the zoo in 1949. These rare cats are amazing to see in person. There are two cages on either side of the path with a walkway over top. We saw the leopards approach the walkway, but they did not get any closer to each other than about 20 feet.
There are several aviaries at the zoo with many rare birds on display throughout.
Additionally, the zoo has a highly successful California Condor breeding program that has been instrumental in saving this species from extinction.
We grabbed some lemonade then hopped onto the Skyfari Aerial Tram. The California Bell Tower could be seen in the distance from the tram.
This coconut crab is the largest land arthropod in the world. And, yes, they eat coconuts and are indigenous to the South Pacific islands.
We took a quick tour through the Insect House. That red "thing" is a Peruvian Fire Stick, the furry "thing" is a tarantula (yikes!), and third photo is of jade-headed buffalo beetles (very colorful).
Our final stop for the day was the reptile house. I really liked the design of this building as all of the exhibits can be seen from the outside. Also shown is a western diamondback rattlesnake.
Below are a green tree viper, neotropical rattlesnake, and a king cobra (the largest venomous snake in the world).
The San Diego Zoo is committed to education, science and conservation. Leading the fight against extinction, they currently have 140 projects in 30 countries underway today. There is so much to see here, be sure to allocate as much time as possible when you visit. Kids will love the Children's Zoo as we saw many families enjoying all of the exhibits.
Check out their website for loads of information about the zoo and the animals there. With the 100th anniversary this year, there is a very interesting timeline on the website that provides the history of San Diego Zoo, one of the world's best.