Situated on 100 beautiful acres in San Diego's Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo has been and will continue to be a leader in animal conservation practices. The Zoo, one of the largest in the country and considered one of the best, is home to over 3,700 animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies including many that are considered rare or endangered. The Zoo's parent company, San Diego Zoo Global, is the single largest zoological membership organization in the world representing nearly half a million individuals. With a mission to save the world's animals, to preserve natural ecosystems and decrease destructive human practices in natural habitats, the San Diego Zoo stands out as a leader among zoological parks and has since its inception.
The park found its beginnings stemming from the exotic animal exhibits shown during the Panama-California Exposition of 1915. The following year, the Zoological Society of San Diego was formed and thus was the famed San Diego Zoo. 2016 marks the Zoo's 100th anniversary!
Over the years the park has pioneered various concepts that paved the way for worldwide zoo habitats such as the concept for open-air cageless exhibits to re-create animal habitats. The San Diego Zoo is also a leader in reproduction programs, conservation and species-prevention efforts around the globe. Their Institute for Conservation Research currently raises 149 endangered species and has, over the years, reintroduced over 30 of those species back into the wild. San Diego Zoo Global employs over 200 dedicated conservation scientists working in roughly 35 countries around the world and has at least 50 designated protected conservation zones where scientists can study, and animals can live free from fear of poaching. This makes the San Diego Zoo and its parent company the largest zoo-based multidisciplinary research effort in the world. Because of this, the zoo has been winning awards since 1958 in various areas including their successes in reproducing endangered species, reintroduction programs, and also their tourism efforts and exhibit design among others.
So let's get to the animals, shall we?
The San Diego Zoo, with its 3,700 animals over 100 acres, is a massive park with so much to see. If it's too much to walk, remember that there's a guided bus tour available for over 75% of the park so you can ride through the exhibits in comfort. You can also take part in the Skyfari, a gondola sky lift that allows you to see the park from an aerial view. The park is just as beautiful from above as it is below, as you'd be able to see the arboretum-like design and use of exotic plants such as eucalyptus which the park grows to feed their koalas.
There are roughly ten delineated themed exhibit areas generally surrounding a central ecosystem. The zoo also utilizes the natural beauty and temperate climate of San Diego to strengthen the illusion that you truly are walking into another ecosystem. Head out to the Australian Outback and see koalas and Tasmanian devils, camels and laughing kookaburras. Because the climates of Australia and Southern California are so similar, many of the plants once thought to be decorative have integrated themselves into the Californian landscape, seeming quite at home.
From the Outback, head to Panda Canyon. The San Diego Zoo is one of four zoos in the U.S. to house giant pandas and one of the only zoos in the world to be successful in breeding the giant mammals. What's still more surprising is that they were successful six times! Six panda cubs were born to Bai Yun, the zoo's resident female panda, and all but one have been relocated to China to participate in their own breeding programs. In Panda Canyon, you'll also see cute and furry red pandas alongside takins, large creatures resembling a mixture between wildebeest and bison.
The San Diego Zoo is also quite well known for its efforts in great ape and monkey conservation practices. The Zoo houses several endangered, threatened, and otherwise vulnerable ape and monkey species in an effort to reintroduce strengthened populations to the wild and save what animals they can from poaching in Africa and Asia. In a few areas of the park, you'll find a family of western lowland gorillas as well as mandrills, lion-tailed macaques, and more. The San Diego Zoo is also one of the few to house bonobos, considered to be the most endangered species of great ape. Orangutans, who are also extremely endangered and are nearly extinct in many parts of Asia, are in attendance as well.
We all know who everyone's favorite animals are though, right? The great cats from Africa hold a special place in many a zoo-goers heart and they are, of course, viewable at the San Diego Zoo. Malayan tigers, African lions, clouded leopards, cheetahs, mountain lions and more are all cared for in lovely SoCal. But let's not forget about the elephants! The zoo is home to seven elephants, three from Africa and four from Asia, located in Elephant Odyssey, a 2.5-acre area just for the gentle giants. The park's newest exhibit, African Rocks, is set to open in 2017 and will feature a brand new exhibit design and will house many of the African favorites you love.
The San Diego Zoo, as a learning institution, greatly encourages participating in their "experiences" and animal encounter programs to enhance your time at their park. Pick and choose how "educational" you make your time there and go on a backstage tour, inside look or VIP tours, take a Sunrise Surprise Stroll through the park or even have breakfast with the pandas. If you're spending some time in San Diego or live in the area, the park also offers summer camps and extended classes. While in the park, ride the guided tour bus, watch a live animal show, or have an animal encounter and meet animals up close, even touching some!
The San Diego Zoo is an absolutely, fantastically gorgeous learning environment where practically every layer of science comes together for easy field trips where the students get excited and forget that they're even learning. If you're looking for a graduation trip celebration with friends, you most certainly cannot pass up a chance to see all of these glorious animals right here in sunny San Diego!