The San Diego Zoo is located in San Diego, California. It opened in 1916.
The zoo is operated by San Diego Zoo Global who also operate the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Over 4 million people visit the zoo each year making it one of the most visited zoos in the United States.
They are 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 zoo has featured in a number of TV shows and movies including The Zoo: San Diego on Animal Planet. It was the subject of the first video uploaded to YouTube.
Guided tours are provided on this bus tour of the San Diego Zoo. There is also a hop-on hop-off bus service to get you around the zoo.
Balboa Park Miniature Train
This miniature railway transports kids on a 3 minute journey around the parklands just outside of the zoo’s gates.
Skyfari® Aerial Tram
This aerial tram gives you views of the zoo from above as well as the surrounding park.
The zoo has a range of play spaces spread throughout the zoo for children to work off some energy. Attractions include fossil dig pits, a real research helicopter and a fake tree where kids can pretend to be a koala.
The 4-D theatre brings 3-D movies to life with effects such as wind, rain, snow and more. Movies shown vary with the zoo having 2 theatres.
Number of Animals
Number of Species
The San Diego Zoo was the vision of Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth and grew out of abandoned animal exhibits from the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The first meeting of the zoo’s organization was held on 10/02/2016 with the articles for incorporation being executed on 12/11/1916.
During 1917 the Society set its official seal as a grizzly bear. This was used till 1955 when the species became extinct in California. At this point the collection was a series of cages along Park Boulevard.
The next year the City of San Diego entered in to an agreement with the Society which would provide a permeant zoo site in exchange for the city having ownership of the animals, property and equipment.
In 1921 the city provided the 57 hectare (140-acre) site which the zoo has occupied to this day. It was fenced thanks to a donation by Ellen Browning Scripps. This allowed the zoo to charge for entry. The International Harvester Building from the Panama Exposition was converted to a reptile house and zoo entry in 1922.
The zoo opened on New Year’s Day 1923 with admission set at 10 cents for adults with children free.
ZooNooz was first published during 1924 and appeared in the San Diego Zoo. In this year an extra 4 hectares (10 acres) of land was granted to the zoo.
In 1925 the zoo completed its first international exchange when zoo director, Tom Faulconer travelled to Australia and was presented with koalas ‘Snugglepot’ and ‘Cuddlepie’ as gifts to San Diegos children from the children of Sydney. Also included in the exchange was kangaroos, emus, dingoes, phalangers, an echidna and birds of paradise.
Bus tours of the zoo began on weekends in 1926 and continue to this day.
Belle Benchley had been hired as a temporary bookkeeper at the zoo during 1925. But by 1927 she was executive secretary. This post effectively made her zoo director a post which she would be formerly granted a few years later. She held this post till 1953.
In 1932 the San Diego Zoo came under threat from a $100,000 tax bill charged by the county assessor. To collect this, he attempted to auction the property and animals. This was unsuccessful and as such the property became the state’s but they refused management of the zoo and as such it returned to the society.
In 1934 the zoo’s finances received a boost when the city passed a proposition giving the zoo 2 cents from every $100 they collected in property tax.
The zoo began featuring in the television program “Behind the Scenes at the Zoo” during 1951.
In 1954 Dr. Charles Schroeder began to serve as director of the zoo. He would hold this position till 1972. Another 0.8ha (2 acres) of land was allocated to the zoo and a new entrance also opened in this year.
1955 saw a weekly live television show begin. It was also the year that a new corporate seal came in to use using an elephant seal.
The Skyfari opened during 1969.
In 1983 the zoo first began to lend out its koalas to zoos who could not provide for them permanently. This program continues to this day.
Another notable success with koalas occurred in 1985 when an albino joey was born, the first outside of Australia. The male joey became known as “Goolara.”
Giant pandas were first exhibited at the zoo in 1987. These were known as “Basi” and “Yuan Yuan. San Diego Zoo received their first breeding pair of pandas on a 12-year loan in 1996. Their first cub “Hua Mei” was born on 8/21/1999. To date 6 cubs have been born at the zoo.
In 2005 the zoo opened, Monkey tails and Forest tales.
Penguins returned to the zoo in 2014. They had been absent since 1979.
During 2017 the zoo opened the Africa rocks habitat which transformed 8 acres of the zoo.
In 2019 the zoo returned their pair of giant pandas to China.
Ken Allen was an orangutan who lived at the San Diego zoo in a supposedly escape proof enclosure. He was born at the zoo in 1971. Ken Allen escaped this escape proof enclosure 3 times though. Ken Allen’s escapes earned him the nickname ‘the hairy Houdini’.
During Ken Allen’s escapes, he never acted aggressively towards any visitors or other animals and would just walk through the zoo to look at other animals. Zookeepers could not work out how Ken Allen escaped and they began video surveillance of the enclosure. Ken Allen appeared to know he was being watched though so zookeepers went undercover as tourists but still they did not fool Ken Allen. In the end zoo officials hired experienced rock climbers to find every finger, toe and foot hold within the enclosure and they then paid $40,000 to have these removed.
Ken Allen’s docile manner and ability to outwit keepers meant that he became rather famous. He had his own fan club and became the subject of T-shirts and bumper stickers he also had a song called The Ballad of Ken Allen written about him. In December 2000 Ken Allen developed cancer and was euthanized he was 29 years old at the time. In 2011 Ken Allen’s escape stories were rated in the top 10 zoo escapes of all time by Time Magazine.
Also, referred to as “koalafornia” this exhibit provides a new habitat for the zoo’s highly successful Queensland koala group. It is also one of the few places in the world outside of Australia where you can view a Tasmanian devil. Bird aviaries are also present for birds such as the kookaburra.
Lost forest is the combination of a series of exhibits built over several years. It features animals from across Africa, South America and Asia’s rainforests. Main features in this area include gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, Malayan tigers and both species of hippos. Several monkey species, tapirs, rare okapis, otters and aviaries are featured in this complex.
Two of the zoo’s largest aviaries are also in this zone. These are known as the Scripps and Owens aviaries with both being walkthrough.
At the entrance to the complex is a pond for flamingos.
This habitat complex opened in 1989. It is the home of sun bears, lion tailed macaques, gibbons and birds.
Opened in 2009 this area created a much larger habitat for the zoo’s elephants at 1ha (2.5 acres). A range of supporting exhibits explore the theme of ancient California through showing the modern-day counterparts of extinct species.
This area is made up of six habitats showcasing the biodiversity found in Africa. Cape Fynbos is the home of African penguins which share their space with leopard sharks, the West African forest showcases dwarf crocodiles. In the Acacia woodland you can see leopards, vervet monkeys and enter the walk-through aviary. Ethiopian highlands is the habitat for hamadryas baboons, Nubian ibex and one of only two groups of gelada in the US. Madagascar forest houses lemurs, sifakas and fossas. The finale of Africa rocks is the Kopje with mongoose, meerkats, eagles, servals and klipspringer.