San Diego Zoo Global

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San Diego Zoo Global
Formerly called
The Zoological Society of San Diego (1916–2010)
Industry Zoo, conservation efforts
Founded December 11, 1916 (1916-12-11) in San Diego, United States
Headquarters San Diego, California, United Sates
Areas served
Worldwide, primarily Southern California

San Diego Zoo Global is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in San Diego that operates the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Conservancy.[1] Founded in 1916 as the Zoological Society of San Diego under the leadership of Harry M. Wegeforth, the organization claims the largest zoological society membership in the world, with more than 250,000 member households and 130,000 child memberships, representing more than half a million people.[1] The organization's mission statement states "San Diego Zoo Global is committed to saving species worldwide by uniting our expertise in animal care and conservation science with our dedication to inspiring passion for nature."[1]



Except for a five-month absence in 1918 while serving in the Army, Dr. Harry Wegeforth served as President of the Zoological Society of San Diego from its founding in 1916 until his death in 1941.

Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth, a San Diego physician, founded the Zoological Society of San Diego in 1916 with the intention of starting a zoo in the city's Balboa Park area using abandoned exotic animal exhibitions from the Isthmus portion of the 1915–16 Panama–California Exposition.[2] In the September 27, 1916 issue of the San Diego Union, he and his brother, Dr. Paul Wegeforth, announced a call for interested parties to join them in forming a society to develop and support a zoological garden.[3] They specifically called for local physician Fred Baker, who had co-founded the Marine Biological Institution (which later became Scripps Institution of Oceanography), and Joseph Cheesman Thompson, a Navy neurosurgeon with an interest in entomology and herpetology.[3] The two responded, and helped convince naturalist Frank Stephens, a member of the Board of Directors of the Natural History Society, to join as well.[3] The five men held the first organizational meeting of the Zoological Society of San Diego on October 2, 1916, with Harry Wegeforth serving as the founding president and Thompson as vice-president.[1][3][4] Harry Wegeforth, Thompson, and Stephens drew up the Articles of Incorporation and by-laws for the Society, which were submitted to the city, park commission, and state and executed on December 11, 1916.[3][4] The group had already received one of its first animals that November: "Caesar", a female Kodiak bear that had been kept as a mascot and pet by the crew of the USS Nanshan; having grown too large and unruly to remain aboard the ship, the bear was lent to the fledgling zoo by Captain W. D. Prideaux.[3][4] By the end of the year the Zoological Society had grown to 120 members, and had raised $1,000 in four days by selling lifetime memberships at $200 apiece.[3]

Establishing the San Diego Zoo[edit]

Main article: San Diego Zoo

The Zoological Society's initial efforts focused on the creation of the San Diego Zoo. In January 1917 the Balboa Park Board agreed to furnish quarters in the park to establish a zoo, and to assist the Society with maintenance.[3] The Zoo began as a long row of cages along Park Boulevard housing animals that had been rented for the Panama–California Exposition from a menagerie at the Wonderland Amusement Park in nearby Ocean Beach; Wonderland had gone out of business during the Exposition, and the animals were held jointly by the Society, the Park Department, and the Mission Bay Corporation.[3][4] Additional animals left over from the Exposition and scattered throughout Balboa Park were turned over to the new Zoo by the Park Department.[3] Other early animals acquired by or donated to the Zoo included a badger, two lynxes, a gray fox, a coyote, two golden eagles, two rails, a whip snake, and a white goose.[3] Stephens served as the active director of the Zoo during this time.[4] The Zoological Society's first official seal was created, featuring an image of a grizzly bear.[4]

The Society faced financial challenges in maintaining the growing animal collection.[3] W. H. Porterfield of the San Diego Sun had long been interested in establishing a zoo in Balboa Park, and offered to use his newspaper to publicize the Zoo and campaign for funds.[3] At his suggestion, the Society's Board of Directors contacted school authorities, asking them to stimulate children to approach their parents about supporting the Zoo.[3] Porterfield ran a contest in the Sun in conjuction with an upcoming circus, in which the newspaper gave prizes to the best children's stories about animals.[3] He also arranged for the circus to charge children a $0.50 admission fee which would include a membership to the Junior Zoological Society; $0.12 of each admission would go to the circus, and the remaining $0.38 to the Zoological Society.[3] Within two months the Society had raised enough money to purchase the Wonderland animals from the Mission Bay Corporation.[3] Carl H. Heilbron and David Charles Collier were also instrumental in helping the Zoo acquire the Wonderland animals.[3]

Joseph Thompson planned much of the Zoo's education program, which included guidebooks, textbooks, and free lectures; the first such lecuture was about bears, in response to Caesar's arrival.[3] However, he resigned from the Society's Board of Directors in April 1917 in order to leave on government duty, and was replaced by Joseph Sefton, Jr.[3] Paul Wegeforth resigned in mid-1917 to accept a commission in the United States Army, and was replaced by Thomas N. Faulconer.[3] Harry Wegeforth began the construction of reptile cages and started trading with and selling animals to other zoos, exchanging two brown bear cubs for a polar bear.[3] The Zoo's first lion cubs were born September 17, 1917; named "Faith", "Hope", and "Charity", they were sold to the City of Seattle in 1919.[3][4] By October 1917 the Society had again run out of funds, and Wegeforth organized a track and field meet between the Navy and Marine Corps, generating enough revenue from ticket sales to maintain the Society through the end of the year.[3] By this time the Zoological Society was selling annual memberships at $5 apiece.[4]

The Zoological Society struggled to find a permanent location for the Zoo within Balboa Park, negotiating with the Park Commission and promising "to furnish the best collection of animals and reptiles on the Pacific Coast" as well as to provide professional staff, scientific and descriptive labels for the animals, and free public lectures about the collection and natural history.[3] Following a suggestion made by the City Attorney, a resolution was adopted in 1918: In return for a building in Balboa Park and an as-yes-undesignated plot of ground set aside for the Zoo and for research work, the Society would sell ownership of all its animals, equipment, and property to the Board of Park Commissioners of the City of San Diego; thus the Zoo and all its future assets would belong to the city, but would be managed and maintained by the Zoological Society, who would have jurisdiction over the permanent zoo site.[3][4] The City Council agreed, and pledged additional funds to aid the Zoo's maintenance.[3] Around this time Harry Wegeforth resigned from the Society Board to accept a commission in the Army.[3] Sefton served as president for almost five months before Wegeforth resumed the post, a position he would retain until his death in 1941.[3]

By late 1919 a permanent location for the Zoo had still not been secured, but sturdier housing was needed for the bears.[3] The Society set about building its first open-air, cageless exhibit: a bear grotto with a moat separating the animals from visitors.[3] The planned concrete floor was omitted due to insufficient funds, and Caesar tunneled under the wall the first night, damaging the enclosure.[3] Ellen Browning Scripps made the first donation to build a proper grotto that would contain the bears.[3] The Zoological Society's first organized membership campaign was carried out during the final months of 1920.[4]

By 1921 the City Council appropriated $5,000 for maintenance and improvements to the Zoo, and the Zoo's current site, an area of 140 acres, was approved that fall as its permanent location.[3][4] City planner Nathanial Slaymaker drew up the initial plans for the site.[4] Wegeforth convinced many notable San Diegans to help fund the Zoo's construction, including Scripps, John D. Spreckels, George Marston, and Ralph Granger (of Granger Hall).[3] Scripps donated $9,000 for a fence around the property, which for the first time enabled the Zoo to charge an admission fee.[4] A formal dedication of the property was held, and much of 1922 was spent hiring staff, building exhibits and pools, and acquiring new animals, including the first live Guadalupe fur seals to be brought into the United States.[4] Fred Baker remained on the Society's Board of Directors until June 13, 1922.[3]

The San Diego Zoo's grand opening occurred on January 1, 1923.[4] The original entrance was through the Reptile House, which had been converted from the Panama–California Exposition's International Harvester Building.[4] Admission was free for children and members of the Zoological Society (adult admission for non-members was $0.10).[4] The San Diego Zoo now houses over 3,700 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies, and a botanical collection of more than 700,000 exotic plants.[1]


In 2011 the name of the Zoological Society of San Diego was changed to San Diego Zoo Global.[5]


San Diego Zoo Global receives a four-star or "highly rated" evaluation from the Charity Navigator website,[6] which reports that the Society spends 90.2% of its funds on operating its programs, 7.7% on administrative expenses, and 2.0% on fundraising.

In 2000, the organization received a grant of $7.5 million from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The grant helped to fund the construction of the Institute for Conservation Research (formerly the Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species).[7] The center is next to the Paul Harter Veterinary Medical Center which is located at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.[8]

In 2004 the Society received its largest ever individual donation, of $10 million, from the estate of McDonald's heiress Joan Kroc.[9]

In 2009 the Zoological Society was named a "Rising Star in the field of Plant & Animal Science" by Thomson Reuters.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e "About San Diego Zoo Global". San Diego Zoo Global. Retrieved 2015-05-26. 
  2. ^ Amero, Richard W. (2013). Balboa Park and the 1915 Exposition (1st ed.). Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press. p. 139. ISBN 1-626193-45-2. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj Shaw, Marjorie Betts (Summer 1978). "The San Diego Zoological Garden: A Foundation to Build On". The Journal of San Diego History (San Diego Historical Society Quarterly) 2 (3). Retrieved 26 May 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "SDZG History Timeline". San Diego Zoo Global. Retrieved 2015-05-27. 
  5. ^ San Diego Zoo Global
  6. ^ Charity Navigator rating
  7. ^ San Diego Zoo announcement
  8. ^ "Zoological Society of San Diego Receives $7.5 Million Grant. - Free Online Library". 2000-05-01. Retrieved 2009-07-02. 
  9. ^ "Zoo Group Gets $10-Million Kroc Gift - Los Angeles Times". 2004-04-10. Retrieved 2009-07-02. 
  10. ^ "Zoological Society of San Diego, (Part 1)". Retrieved 2009-07-02. 

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