San Diego Zoo

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San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo Street Sign.jpg
San Diego Zoo sign and logo on Park Blvd.
Entrance to the zoo with sculpture "Rex's Roar" after the lion that inspired the zoo.[1]
Date opened1916 (Precursor Panama-California Exposition in previous year)
LocationBalboa Park, San Diego, California, U.S.
Coordinates32°44′10″N 117°09′05″W / 32.73611°N 117.15139°W / 32.73611; -117.15139
Land area99 acres (40 ha)[2]
No. of animals3,700+[2]
No. of species650+ (incl. subspecies)[2]
Annual visitors4 million (2018)[3]
MembershipsAZA,[4] AAM,[5] WAZA[6]
Major exhibitsAbsolutely Apes, Children's Zoo, Elephant Odyssey, Panda Trek, Lost Forest, Monkey Trails, Polar Bear Plunge

The San Diego Zoo is a zoo in Balboa Park, San Diego, California, housing over 12,000 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies on 100 acres (40 ha) of Balboa Park leased from the City of San Diego.[7][8] Its parent organization, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, is a private nonprofit conservation organization, and has one of the largest[better source needed] zoological membership associations in the world, with more than 250,000 member households and 130,000 child memberships, representing more than a half million people.[9]

The San Diego Zoo was a pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that recreate natural animal habitats.[10] For decades, the zoo housed and successfully bred giant pandas,[11] though the pandas were repatriated to China in 2019.[12]

With more than 4 million visitors in 2018,[3] San Diego Zoo is the most visited zoo in the United States.[13][14] Travelers have also cited it as one of the best zoos in the world.[15][16] The San Diego Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance also operates the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


"Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a zoo in San Diego? I believe I'll build one."

Harry M. Wegeforth, after hearing a lion roar at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition[17][18][1]

The San Diego Zoo grew out of exotic animal exhibitions abandoned after the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.[17] Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth founded the Zoological Society of San Diego, meeting October 2, 1916,[18] which initially followed precedents set by the New York Zoological Society at the Bronx Zoo. He served as president of the society until 1941.[17] A permanent tract of land in Balboa Park was set aside in August 1921; on the advice of the city attorney, it was agreed that the city would own all the animals and the zoo would manage them.[19] The zoo began to move in the following year. In addition to the animals from the Exposition, the zoo acquired a menagerie from the defunct Wonderland Amusement Park.[19] Ellen Browning Scripps financed a fence around the zoo so that it could begin charging an entrance fee to offset costs.[20] The publication ZooNooz commenced in early 1925.

Me at the zoo, filmed in the San Diego Zoo, was the first video on YouTube, uploaded by Jawed Karim.

Animal collector Frank Buck went to work as director of the San Diego Zoo on June 13, 1923, signed to a three-year contract by Wegeforth. William T. Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoo, had recommended Buck for the job, but Buck quickly clashed with the strong-willed Wegeforth and left the zoo after three months to return to animal collecting.[21]

After several other equally short-lived zoo directors, Wegeforth appointed the zoo's bookkeeper, Belle Benchley, to the position of executive secretary, in effect zoo director; she was given the actual title of zoo director a few years later. She served as zoo director from 1925 until 1953.[22] For most of that time she was the only female zoo director in the world.[22] She was succeeded as director by Dr. Charles Schroeder.

The San Diego Zoo was a pioneer in building "cageless" exhibits.[20] Wegeforth was determined to create moated exhibits from the start, and the first lion area at the San Diego Zoo without enclosing wires opened in 1922.[23]

Until the 1960s, admission for children under 16 was free, regardless of whether they were accompanied by a paying adult.

The zoo's Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES) was founded in 1975 at the urging of Kurt Benirschke, who became its first director. CRES was renamed the division of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species in 2005 to better reflect its mission. In 2009, CRES was significantly expanded to become the Institute for Conservation Research.[24]

The world's only albino koala in a zoological facility was born September 1, 1997, at the San Diego Zoo and was named Onya-Birri, which means "ghost boy" in an Australian Aboriginal language.[25] The San Diego Zoo has the largest number of koalas outside of Australia.

In 2014, a colony of African penguins arrived for the first time in the zoo since 1979. They have since moved into Africa Rocks when it opened in 2017.

In 2016, Baba, the last pangolin on display in North America at the time, died at the zoo.[26]

In October 2020, two gorillas charged at the glass of their enclosure, damaging the outer pane. The gorilla exhibit has been closed until further notice.


The San Diego Zoo has had a number of notable escapees through the years; the most noteworthy of them is Ken Allen, a Bornean orangutan who came to be known as "the hairy Houdini", for his many escapes.[27]

San Diego County Animal Control Officer, Tom Van Wagner, with Tasmanian devil he captured after it escaped from the San Diego Zoo

In 1940, a Malayan Tapir managed to escape several times, earning it the nickname "Terrible Trudy".[28][29]

In 1977, an animal control officer for the County of San Diego, Tom Van Wagner, a previous employee of the San Diego Zoo as a tour bus guide, captured a Tasmanian devil escapee in a south central San Diego home's garage. The animal was transported to the zoo and the zoo hospital staff took possession of the capture.[citation needed]

In March 2013, the zoo, which was hosting a private party at the time, had to initiate a lockdown when two striped hyenas somehow got past their barriers. They were "darted with a sedative and taken to the veterinary care clinic."[30]

In 2014, a koala named Mundu escaped to a neighboring tree just outside its Koalafornia Australia Outback enclosure. Zookeepers lured him down the tree once the park closed that day.[31]

In early 2015, two Wolf's guenons monkeyed around outside of their Lost Forest enclosure after escaping. One of the monkeys neared a fence line off of Route 163, but was brought back to safety without injury.[32]


Two Skyfari gondolas
An example of one of the thousands of plants taken care of at the San Diego Zoo
An example of one of the thousands of plants taken care of at the San Diego Zoo

The zoo offers a guided tour bus that traverses 75% of the park.[33] There is also an overhead gondola lift called the Skyfari, providing an aerial view of the zoo. The Skyfari was built in 1969 by the Von Roll tramway company of Bern, Switzerland.[34] The San Diego Zoo Skyfari is a Von Roll type 101.[citation needed]

Exhibits at the zoo are often designed around a particular habitat. The same exhibit may feature many different animals that can be found side by side in the wild, along with native plant life. Exhibits range from an African rain forest (featuring gorillas) to the Arctic taiga and tundra in the summertime (featuring polar bears). Some of the largest free-flight aviaries in existence are here, including the Owens Aviary and the Scripps Aviary. Many exhibits are "natural", with invisible wires and darkened blinds (to view birds), and accessible pools and open-air moats (for large mammals).

The San Diego Zoo also operates the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which displays animals in a more expansive, open setting than at the zoo. Animals are regularly exchanged between the two locations, as well as between San Diego Zoo and other zoos around the world, usually in accordance with Species Survival Plan recommendations.

The temperate, sunny maritime climate of California is well suited to many plants and animals. Besides an extensive collection of birds, reptiles, and mammals, it also maintains its grounds as an arboretum, with a rare plant collection. The botanical collection includes more than 700,000 exotic plants.[35] As part of its gardening effort, some rare animal foods are grown at the zoo. For example, 40 varieties of bamboo were raised for the pandas when they were at the zoo on long-term loan from China. It also maintains 18 varieties of eucalyptus trees to feed its koalas.

Keepers and most other employees at the San Diego Zoo are members of Teamsters Union Local 481.[36]


The zoo is expected to open a new exhibit, the Sanford's Children Zoo, sometime in 2021.

Monkey Trail and Forest Tales[edit]

Monkey Trails showcases monkeys and other animals from the rainforests of Asia and Africa. Opened in 2005,[37] it replaced an older exhibit known as the Monkey Yard. Monkey Trail is home primarily to monkeys such as guenons, mangabeys, Angola colobuses, tufted capuchins, spider monkeys, and mandrills, but it also showcases many other species of animals, such as yellow-backed duikers named Ethana, Lucius and Peep. When Peep rejected Ethana, Lucius stepped in to take care of her, which was not expected as male duikers do not take care of calves.[37] There are three pygmy hippopotamus named Elgon, Mabel and their son Akobi. Last month, after weeks of anticipation, Mabel gave birth to Akobi, a male calf who was the first calf born at the zoo. There are also slender-snouted crocodiles. Many species of turtles, snakes, lizards, and fish can be seen in a series of water/land exhibits with underwater viewing areas. In smaller exhibits, many reptiles and amphibians such as pancake tortoises can be found, along with many species of arthropods such as Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Monkey Trail utilizes a new method of displaying arboreal animals—by climbing up an elevated walkway throughout the exhibit. Some of the horticultural highlights in Monkey Trail include a ficus tree, cycads, and a bog garden.[37]

Owens Aviary[edit]

The Owens Aviary contains about 200 tropical birds representing 45 species. Lories, kingfishers, Bali mynahs, jacanas, woodpeckers, and argus pheasants can all be seen here.[38]

Scripps Aviary[edit]

The Scripps Aviary is home to many colorful birds such as the amethyst starling, tinkerbirds, and the sociable weaver.

Panda Canyon[edit]

As of April 2019, the panda exhibit is not in operation. The pandas were repatriated to China after successfully serving the larger conservation effort for pandas.[39]

In the past, the San Diego Zoo was one of four zoos in the U.S. which had giant pandas on display, and was the most successful in terms of panda reproduction. The first two giant panda cubs in U.S. history to have been born in the U.S. and survive into adulthood—Hua Mei (female, born to Bai Yun and Shi Shi) and Mei Sheng (male, born to Bai Yun and Gao Gao)—were born at the San Diego Zoo, in 1999 and 2003, respectively. After that, three more giant panda cubs—Su Lin and Zhen Zhen (both females) and Yun Zi (male)[40]—were born to the resident giant panda parents Bai Yun and Gao Gao.[41] Xiao Liwu (meaning "little gift"), was born on July 29, 2012, and was let outside for visitors to see on January 9, 2013.[42] All of the cubs except Xiao Liwu have since been sent back to China to participate in the breeding program there.[43][44]

In addition to being able to view this rare animal species, the nearby Giant Panda Discovery Center had interactive exhibits that let the visitor experience firsthand what the animals smell and sound like. Since the closing of Panda Trek, there are now more native Chinese animals, including Sichuan takins, a red panda, Mangshan pitvipers, and an exhibit comparing several types of bamboo which are still visible. There is also a slope featuring Amur leopards and snow leopards.

Urban Jungle[edit]

The Urban Jungle houses different animals including a small herd of Masai giraffes, Soemmerring's gazelles, red kangaroos, Indian rhinos, flamingos, Grevy's zebra and cheetahs. Many of the Zoo's animal ambassadors live there including a binturong, clouded leopards, crested porcupines, southern ground hornbills, and a tamandua. The giraffes living here are on what was Elephant Mesa. There is also a theater where the zoo has its "Animals in Action" show.

Polar Bear Plunge[edit]

Polar Bear Plunge, which opened in 1996,[45] and was renovated in March 2010, houses over 30 species representing the Arctic. The main animals in the area are the three polar bears, named Kalluk, Chinook, and Tatqiq. More animals that make their home in the Plunge include reindeer (or caribou), Canadian lynx, raccoon, arctic fox, and Arabian wildcat. An underwater viewing area is available to observe the polar bears swimming in their 130,000-US-gallon (490,000 l) pool.[45]

Farther down the path lies the arctic aviary, home to diving ducks including buffleheads, harlequin ducks, redheads, smews, wigeons, pintails, canvasbacks, and long-tailed ducks. The aviary houses more than 25 species of duck. Some of the horticultural highlights include giant redwood trees, many different pine trees, and manzanita.[45] Just up the path of Polar Bear Plunge is Northwest passage, housing cougars, giant anteaters, maned wolves, Patagonian maras, Chinese gorals, lowland anoas, royal antelopes, Siberian musk deer, Cuvier's gazelles, gerenuk, bontebok, Grévy's zebras, lesser kudu, Speke's gazelles, Chacoan peccarys, Steller's sea eagles, Andean condors, ornate hawk-eagles and harpy eagles.[46]

Discovery Outpost[edit]

The Discovery Outpost is located in the southeastern corner of the zoo, near the entrance. It is where the reptile house is located along with the new reptile walk. Inside is the children's zoo and the Discovery Playground. A small bird aviary called the hummingbird aviary includes sunbirds, manakins, tanagers, euphonias, purple honeycreepers, plate-billed mountain toucans, green aracaris, and hummingbirds. There is also an insect house with an insect collection including live insects: leafcutter ants, stick insects and water beetles. There is a petting zoo, called the petting paddock, which is home to different breeds of sheep and goats. This is where people, mostly kids, can have more interaction with the animals. There is also a Fisher-Price Discovery Playground, perfect for kids who want to have some fun and play. The children's zoo is under renovation along with the Komodo dragon and hummingbird exhibits.[47]

Other animals in the Children's Zoo include naked mole rats, fennec foxes, ocelots, mice, macaws, southern tamanduas, owls, and porcupines. Reptiles at the reptile house and reptile walk include Chinese alligators, Galápagos tortoises, Komodo dragons, anacondas, cobras, monitor lizards, pythons, bushmasters, caiman lizards, Fiji banded iguanas, water cobras, short-nosed vine snakes, black-headed pythons, Boelen's pythons, coachwhips, side-striped palm-pit vipers, Ethiopian mountain adders, flower snakes, radiated tortoises, European pond turtles, ocellated lizards, European glass lizards, leopard tortoises, African spurred tortoises, savannah monitors, Vietnamese mossy frogs, freshwater crocodiles, pancake tortoise, Indian gharial, Anegada ground iguana, alligator snapping turtle, along with various snakes, lizards, iguanas, turtles, frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians.

Lost Forest[edit]

Based upon the real Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the central part of the continent of Africa, this exhibit opened in 1999[48] and houses different animal species from the rainforests of central Africa. The exhibit begins with a forested exhibit for okapi and black duiker, then winds past a recreation of two-leaf-covered Mbuti huts with signage about the people's customs and traditions.[48][49][50] Next, the path leads to the hippopotamus exhibit housing two hippopotamus named Funani and her daughter Amahle, which also houses tilapia, and has an underwater viewing area.[51] After the hippos, the path passes through a bunch of bamboo before reaching a clearing where aviaries have housed great blue turaco, emerald starlings, tambourine doves, crowned eagles, and Congo peafowl.[52] A thatched-roof gift shop and a food stand are located in a plaza near by.[48][53][54] Immediately to the right is the African forest buffalo exhibit, which also houses De Brazza's monkey, Allen's swamp monkey, the red-tailed monkey, and the spotted-necked otter.[48][55] The plaza leads to a bridge flanked by the buffalo exhibit on one side and an exhibit that only the small monkeys and otters can access on the other.[56][57] Across the bridge is a creek where the otters can swim, with viewing both above and below the water's surface.[58] Afterwards, the path joins the rest of the zoo.[59] There is also an exhibit for the bonobos.

Elephant Odyssey[edit]

Mammoth Plaza at Elephant Odyssey

This exhibit opened on May 23, 2009, on the site of the former Hoof and Horn Mesa area. The main feature of the exhibit is the 2.5-acre (10,000 m2) elephant habitat—more than three times the size of the zoo's former elephant exhibit, in what used to be Elephant Mesa (now the heavily panned "Urban Jungle" exhibit area). Currently a herd of five, the herd includes three females and two twin brothers. It consists of a blended herd of three African bush elephants named Shaba, two new juveniles from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Reid Park Zoo named Tsandizkle and Inhlonipho, and two Asian elephants named Devi and Mary. Elephant Odyssey also features a glimpse of the past, with the Fossil Portal and life-size statues of ancient creatures of Southern California next to exhibits of their modern-day counterparts. The ancient life represented include the Columbian mammoth, the smilodon fatalis, the American lion, the Daggett's eagle, a Merriam's teratorn, the Dwarf pronghorn, the Dire wolf, the Short faced bear and the Jefferson's ground sloth. Elephant Odyssey's other animal exhibits include lions, jaguars, Baird's tapirs, guanacos, capybaras, pronghorn, two-toed sloths, Kirk's dik-diks, secretary birds, dung beetles, three kinds of rattlesnakes, desert tarantulas, toads, newts, turtles, frogs, dromedary camels, horses, burros, llamas, western pond turtles, maned wolf and the California condor.

The Fossil Portal is an artificial tar pit that periodically drains to reveal man-made Pleistocene-era bones. The path turns a corner and opens up at the Mammoth Passage Plaza, with exhibits for jaguars and lions which has a lion exhibit to the left which houses a lion named Ernest and a lioness named Miss Ellen, as well as an exhibit that has houses two-toed sloths to the right, and the tip of the elephant exhibit, with a large wading pool, straight ahead. The path continues to the left along with the pool, passing by the jaguar exhibit on the left. The northern end of the elephant pool drains into the mixed-species exhibit, which houses Baird's tapirs, capybaras, guanacos, and lammas. The path meets up with the elephant exhibit again before it reaches the Elephant Care Center, where visitors can watch keepers care for the pachyderms. Next is an exhibit for secretarybirds with grasses, a tree, and a statue of the extinct Daggett's eagle nearby. Afterward, the path goes down a crevasse with a wall embedded with vivaria for dung beetles and diving beetles, among other aquatic insects. The path tunnels below the elephant exhibit to reach the other side, where it continues between the elephant exhibit and a creek for native reptiles and amphibians. Just past the source of the stream is a restaurant and gift shop, and after that are exhibits for pronghorns, horses, and camels. Next the path splits between a playground, a rattlesnake terrarium, and a California condor aviary with artificial rock spires and a stream. The paths then reunite and join the rest of the zoo.[60]

Gorilla Tropics[edit]

Simulating the rainforests of central Africa, and opened in 1991,[61] Gorilla Tropics has an 8,000-square-foot (740 m2) enclosure for the eponymous species.[62] The exhibit has waterfalls, a meadow, and tropical plants such as allspice, coral trees, and African tulip trees, as well as several species of bamboo.[63] Guests can view the six western gorillas, which are a family group consisting of Paul Donn, Jessica and their son Denny as well as a bachelor group consisting of three males named Ekuba, Maka and Mandazzi from a viewing window, across a waterfall, and across a creek.

Absolutely Apes[edit]

This exhibit opened in 2003, as a major renovation of the former "Whittier Southeast Asian Exhibits", which had opened in 1982. It houses three female Sumatran orangutans and one male infant named Karen, Indah, Aisha and Kaja (a Bornean orangutan was also kept here; Aisha and Kaja are the offspring of Indah) and even three siamangs named Unkie, Eloise and their daughter Selamat in an 8,400-square-foot (780 m2) exhibit,[64] which is flanked by a 110-foot (34 m) glass viewing window.[65] The exhibit provides sway poles and artificial trees for the apes to swing on and a fake termite mound for them to fish condiments out of.[66] The viewing area is designed to resemble the mulch-lined exhibit side of the viewing window by having rubber mulch, and miniature sway poles for kids.[66] Some plant species in the exhibit are toog trees, carrotwood trees, and markhamia trees.[67]

Sun Bear Forest[edit]

This $3.5 million exhibit opened in 1989, and exhibits Bornean sun bears, Sloth bears, Snow Leopard and silvery lutung monkeys.[68] One end of the 1.5-acre (0.61 ha) complex houses lion-tailed macaques in a grassy exhibit with a stream and climbing ropes. The oblong sun bear exhibit straddles the path along the rest of the complex, and a couple of small aviaries house fifteen species of birds,[68] including fairy bluebird and fruit doves.[69] A large glass-covered exhibit with artificial vines is designed for crested gibbons.[69] Farther down the path, visitors can see African Wild Dog, spotted hyenas, brown bears, spectacled bears, river otters, black-and-white colobuses, François' langurs, aye-ayes and wrinkled hornbills,

A tiger exploring a San Diego Zoo exhibit

Tiger Trail[edit]

Tiger Trail, located in a sloping canyon, opened in 1988 and houses three male Malayan tigers named Conner, the eldest, and Cinta and Berani, the twins, they are all brothers.[70] From the top of the canyon, the path first goes through a pavilion with underwater viewing of crocodilians such as gharials and other aquatic reptiles. It proceeds to another pavilion, this time flanked by the Marsh Aviary, with white-collared kingfishers and storks and a fishing cat exhibit. Farther down the canyon is an exhibit for the Malayan tapir, babirusas, Visayan warty pigs, Indian pythons and the 14-acre (0.10 ha) tiger habitat, which has a hillside stream, waterfall, and glass viewing window.[70]


Maloo is a koala at the San Diego Zoo.

A new Australian Outback area, nicknamed "Koalafornia", opened in May 2013. The San Diego Zoo has the largest koala colony outside of Australia. It has twice as much exhibit space for koalas, including more outdoor enclosures based on a realization that koalas need sun exposure for their health. The new area includes other Australian marsupials, such as wombats, Goodfellow's tree-kangaroos, ringtail possums, wallabies, and Australian birds, such as kookaburras, blue-faced honeyeaters, masked lapwings, Gouldian finches and palm cockatoos. Even the short-beaked echidnas are housed there, even though they are considered monotremes.[71] Since October 2013, the exhibit also houses Tasmanian devils, the first American zoo to do so; the animals are now kept in half a dozen zoos in the Americas as part of the Australian government's Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.[72][73]

Africa Rocks[edit]

Conrad Prebys's Africa Rocks highlights the biodiversity of Africa. The exhibit opened on July 1, 2017, but was not completed until December 6, 2017. The exhibit cost US$60 million to construct. The money was donated to the zoo by 3,800 donors.[74][75] Africa Rocks replaced Dog and Cat Canyon, which featured exhibits that were built in the 1930s.

The exhibit features the following six habitats:

Cape Fynbos[edit]

The Cape Fynbos exhibit features African penguins, an endangered species native to South Africa. The exhibit was designed to mimic the giant granite boulders that are found on Boulders Beach in South Africa, a place where these birds live. The 70 ft (21 m) long and 10 ft (3.0 m) wide habitat also includes a 200,000 US gal (757,080 l; 166,535 imp gal) pool for the penguins that stretches 170 ft (52 m), with depths up to 13 ft (4.0 m). Along with the large pool, the exhibit features a cobblestone beach and a nesting area. A group of 20 penguins moved in on June 22, 2017, to get ready for when the exhibit opened on July 1, 2017.

The penguins also share their exhibit with leopard sharks. Twelve leopard sharks arrived at the San Diego Zoo on June 23, 2017, from SeaWorld San Diego. The sharks were introduced to their exhibit and their penguin neighbors on Wednesday, June 28, 2017. The sharks range in age from 5 to 20. African penguins do not live alongside leopard sharks in the wild; however, they do live with similar shark species. Leopard sharks feed on crustaceans on the bottom floor and do not pose a threat to the penguins.[76]

Acacia Woodland[edit]

The Acacia Woodland exhibit features a leopard exhibit, a troop of vervet monkeys, and an aviary. The leopard exhibit does not feature the African subspecies of leopard, but rather exhibiting the Amur leopards, from as far as Russia to Northern China. This is due to the fact that the Amur leopard is critically endangered, as there are only around 60 individuals left in the wild. The San Diego Zoo participates in the Amur leopard Species Survival Plan, a breeding program that focuses on preserving the genetics of this endangered cat. The Acacia Woodland exhibit will allow the Zoo to have more breeding spaces for the cats. The Zoo has a spotted and black leopard,.

Along with the leopard exhibit, the Acacia Woodland exhibit in Africa Rocks features a vervet monkey troop. The vervet monkeys are very agile and one of the only primate species that lives in a woodland habitat. The aviary in this exhibit features two species of bee eaters, the white-fronted and white-throated, as well as black-headed weavers and several other bird species. The exhibit also features African silverbills, African pygmy geese, African jacanas, amethyst starlings, beautiful sunbirds, blue-naped mousebirds, collared pratincoles, common waxbills, emerald-spotted wood doves, Fischer's lovebirds, golden-breasted starlings, greater painted-snipes, long-tailed paradise whydahs, magpie mannikins, Melba finches, Namaqua doves, pin-tailed whydahs, purple grenadiers, red-billed firefinches, red-cheeked cordon-bleus, wnowy-crowned robin-chats, stone partridges, village indigobirds, white-bellied go-away-birds, white-headed buffalo weavers, yellow-crowned bishops, yellow-necked Francolins, yellow-mantled widowbirds, and zebra waxbills. There are also three species of lizards in the aviary—girdle-tailed lizards, Mali spiny-tailed lizards, and red-eaded rock agamas.[77]

Madagascar Forest[edit]

The Madagascar Forest exhibit features lemur species that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) has identified as needing sustainability assistance for the North American population. By building this new exhibit, the Zoo will be able to participate in breeding programs that will help ensure healthy populations of lemurs in zoos. The exhibit houses a ring-tailed lemur family consisting of mom Tweena, dad Mathew, and their baby Bijou along with five other Ring Tailed Lemurs. The red ruffed lemurs, one of the most endangered primates in the world, include mom Mortica and her baby Ony (Malagasy for "river"). The Zoo is hoping their collared brown lemur pair Pierre and Zaza will produce offspring. Aykroyd and Belushi, two male blue-eyed black lemurs, are still awaiting mates. Ared collard, lemurgrippina, and Thrax are Coquerel's sifakas, the final lemur species exhibited in Africa Rocks. Some of the lemur species will be exhibited together even if they do not live with each other in the wild.

Along with lemurs, the Madagascar Forest exhibit houses the lemurs' main predator the fossa as well as the honey badger.[78]

Ethiopian Highlands[edit]

The Ethiopian Highlands exhibit houses two primate species: the gelada and the Hamadryas baboon. The San Diego Zoo is only the second zoo in North America to house geladas, the other facility being the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Alpha male Juma leads the all-male members including Mahbub, Saburi, Abasi, Diwani, and Valentino. the group arrived at the Zoo on September 7, 2016, from the Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart, Germany where they lived with 44 other geladas. This move was based by the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (EAZA) European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for geladas—the European equivalent of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) program. The bachelor group, who also live with a herd of Nubian ibex, will be introduced to females later on.

The Ethiopian Highlands exhibit is also home to a troop of Hamadryas baboons.[79]

Kopje Woodland[edit]

The word kopje in Dutch means "small head" which describes the rock formations that seem to pop out in the savanna. Kopjes are homes for well adapted animals. The San Diego Zoo's Kopje Woodland in Africa Rocks is home to animals including klipspringers, rock hyrax, and the dwarf mongoose. Each animal has well adapted feet that allow them to cling to the rocks. The exhibit also includes these animals' main predator, the bateleur eagle, as well as meerkats, servals, caracal, New Guinea singing dog and the red-leaved rock fig, a tree species that manages to grow wherever its seeds disperse including the rocky kopje.[80]

West African Forest[edit]

The West African Forest exhibits the West African dwarf crocodile. They remain one of the smallest species of Crocodilia, only measuring about 5 ft (1.5 m) in length. Behind the crocodile exhibit features Rady Falls, a 65 ft (20 m) tall waterfall, the largest man-made waterfall in San Diego. The west African exhibit also features Madagascan big-headed turtles, West African mud turtles, and the floating fig tree.[81]

All the exhibits (including the yet to open Sanford's Children's Zoo) house many rare and endangered species.


The zoo is active in conservation and species-preservation efforts. Its Institute for Conservation Research (formerly the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species) raises California condors, tigers, black rhinos, polar bears, orangutans, peninsular pronghorn, desert tortoises, African penguins, mountain yellow-legged frogs, Pacific pocket mice, Francois' langurs, giraffes, quino checkerspot butterflies, Hawaiian crows, light-footed clapper rails, Gray's monitors, tree lobsters, clouded leopards, Galapagos tortoises, Tahiti lorikeets, lion-tailed macaques, mhorr gazelles, gorillas, Przewalski's horses, koalas, burrowing owls, elephants, Tasmanian devils, okapi, Southwestern pond turtles, and 145 other endangered species. As a result, they have reintroduced more than 30 endangered species back into the wild, and have conserved habitat at 50 field sites. They also have over 200 conservation scientists working in 35 countries around the world. It employs numerous professional geneticists, cytologists, and veterinarians and maintains a cryopreservation facility for rare sperm and eggs called the frozen zoo.

The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is the largest zoo-based multidisciplinary research effort in the world. Based at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Conservation Research adjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, more than 200 dedicated scientists carry out research vital to the conservation of animals, plants, and habitats, locally and internationally.[82]

Zoo Corps[edit]

Zoo Corps is a volunteer program at the San Diego Zoo that enlists high school students to teach guests at the zoo about the animals they are seeing and their place in the ecosystem. It enrolls students between 13 and 17 years of age. The goals are to promote public education about animals and conservation, and to help the students develop their ability to speak in public. The program runs year round in two sessions, one from May through November and one from January through May. Members of the Zoo Corps are expected to volunteer at least once a month.[83]

The program utilizes a series of "Kits", which are set on tables throughout the zoo. The kits contain objects that can be used to explain why an animal is endangered or to shed light on the animal's lifestyle. The four kits are "Backyard Habitats", "Saving Species", "Animal Care", and "Sustainability".


Local architect Louis John Gill designed the original buildings, cages and animal grottos and later in 1926, the Spanish Revival-style research hospital, for which Gill received an Honor Award from the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Gill also designed a bird cage at the zoo in 1937, then the largest bird cage in the world.[84]


The San Diego Zoo has received numerous awards for its exhibits, programs, and reproduction and conservation efforts. This list includes only awards given to the Zoo specifically, not to its parent organization; for those, see: San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Awards.

Year Awarding body Award Notes
1958 San Diego Zoo Convention & Tourist Bureau First tourism award[85]
1961 American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA) Edward H. Bean Award For reproduction of koalas (first koala birth in Western Hemisphere)[85][86]
1963 AAZPA Edward H. Bean Award For Galápagos tortoise hatching[85][86]
For Gila monster hatching (first Gila monster conceived and hatched in captivity)[85][86]
1964 AAZPA Edward H. Bean Award For hatching and rearing of rhinoceros iguana[85][86]
1966 AAZPA Edward H. Bean Award for Most Notable Animal Births in an American Zoo For reproduction of proboscis monkey (first birth outside of Borneo)[85][86]
For reproduction of thick-billed parrot (first hatching recorded in captivity)[85][86]
For reproduction of African softshell turtle (first hatching recorded in captivity)[85][86]
1974 AAZPA Edward H. Bean Award For birth of ruffed lemur[85][86]
1987 AAZPA Exhibit Award For East African Rock Kopje[85][87]
1988 AAZPA Education Award For East African Rock Kopje Interpretive Program[85][88]
1989 AAZPA Exhibit Award For Tiger River[85][87]
Edward H. Bean Award For California condor breeding (shared with San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoo)[85][86]
1991 AAZPA Edward H. Bean Award For François' langur propagation program[85][86]
Significant Achievement Award For long-term propagation of Fijian iguanas[85]
1992 AAZPA Significant Achievement in Exhibits For Gorilla Tropics[85]
1995 Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Significant Achievement Award For Andean condor reintroduction program[85]
1996 AZA Significant Achievement in Exhibis For Hippo Beach[85]
2000 AZA Top Honors in International Conservation For Jamaican Iguana Conservation & Recovery Program (shared with Fort Worth Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, Audubon Nature Institute, Sedgwick County Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, Toledo Zoo, Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo, Gladys Porter Zoo, and Milwaukee County Zoo)[85][89]
Conservation Endowment Fund Award For restoration of two critically endangered West Indian rock iguana species through headstarting and release (shared with Fort Worth Zoo)[85]
2002 AZA Edward H. Bean Award For Sumatran rhinoceros breeding program (shared with Los Angeles Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden)[85]
2007 Avian Scientific Advisory Group (ASAG) Plume Award for Noteworthy Achievement in Avian Husbandry For the Light-footed Clapper Rail coalition (shared with Chula Vista Nature Center, SeaWorld San Diego, San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park, and United States Fish and Wildlife Service Reserve)[90]
2010 AZA Significant Achievement in Exhibits For Elephant Odyssey[87][91]
Top Honors for Excellence in Marketing
2014 AZA Top Honors in International Conservation For Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program in Papua New Guinea (shared with Woodland Park Zoo, Brevard Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Gladys Porter Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens, Minnesota Zoological Garden, Oregon Zoo, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and Zoo New England)[89]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The oldest surviving YouTube video, Me at the zoo, was shot in San Diego Zoo and was uploaded to YouTube on April 23, 2005, by the website's co-founder, Jawed Karim. It can still be viewed on YouTube.[92][93]
  • The shots of the private zoo at Xanadu in Orson Welles' 1941 film Citizen Kane were filmed at the San Diego Zoo.[94]
  • The San Diego Zoo was the filming location for the long-running documentary television series Zoorama.[95]
  • The San Diego Zoo, along with the St. Louis Zoo, were frequently mentioned in the Yogi Bear series of media as possible destinations Ranger Smith may ship Yogi to if he caused too much trouble at Jellystone Park. In the 1964 film Hey There, It's Yogi Bear!, Yogi was actually shipped to the San Diego Zoo, and his escape from being shipped off forms the plot of the film.
  • In addition to its normal publicity efforts, and web page, the zoo also produced a short TV program for a number of years with Joan Embery. Joan Embery brought various animals to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson between 1971 and 1987, and more recently (between 1993 and 2008) The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The zoo loaned the animals.[96]
  • The zoo was featured prominently in the 2004 movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, though filming was done at the old Los Angeles Zoo, not at the San Diego Zoo.[97]
  • The zoo is featured in the 1979 film Scavenger Hunt, in which each of the five teams in a scavenger hunt steals an ostrich from the zoo. (Actual ostriches were not used.)[98]
  • The front cover of The Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds was photographed at the San Diego Zoo.[99]
  • The 6ths' first album Wasps' Nests includes a song called "San Diego Zoo",[100] which features comprehensive directions on how to get to the zoo.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]