Why 2016 is the year you should get to the San Diego Zoo

Some sharks can live to be 400 years old. The world’s oldest tortoise got to see its 250th birthday. Many African elephants achieve a ripe old age of 70. This year, a different member of the animal kingdom is celebrating a major milestone: the San Diego Zoo is turning 100.

In 1916, San Diego physician Dr. Harry Wegeforth gathered a couple colleagues together to care for a handful of animals that had been left behind from a temporary animal exhibit. Many people in the city thought he had gone crazy, but he had a vision. Pretty soon, the San Diego Zoo was born.

In the 100 years that have followed, the zoo has seen significant transformation. Today, 3,700 “rare and endangered animals” call the 100-acre park home, while more than 3,000 animals roam the Safari Park that opened as an extension to the zoo in 1972. The park touts a long legacy of preserving and protecting animal and plant species from all over the world. Now, it’s teaching a generation of young people to care about wildlife and inspiring them to devout their lives and careers to continuing the Zoo’s mission.

Despite its worldwide fame as a champion for wildlife and highly sought after tourist destination, there are still a lot of things about the San Diego Zoo that many people never realize. Here are a few zoo-facts about this southern California staple that just may sway you to plan your next vacation to sunny San Diego.

San Diego Zoo Panda

  • Big game animals roam freely in the Safari Park
    About 30 miles away from the original San Diego Zoo lies a wide open safari park where big game animals from Africa and Asia roam in a much more expansive environment. Visitors can choose their own safari adventure from a list of one-of-a-kind animal experiences. Take a caravan ride to see where giraffes, rhinoceroses and a variety of African antelope co-exist together. Witness a cheetah run 70 miles per hour. Or get a behind the scenes tour of where the tigers live. You can even go on safari in a hot air balloon, or from high above the grounds through a ropes course challenge!
  • You can get up close and personal with furry friends
    In addition to close-up encounters at the Safari Park, the zoo makes it very easy for visitors to get up close and personal with all kinds of animals. You can help a zoo keeper wake the pandas up in the morning, watch an elephant paint a picture, or see how koalas are cared for behind the scenes. Check out the “Special Experiences” and “Activities” sections on the zoo’s website to see which bonus adventures cost extra and how you can book tickets ahead of time.
  • There’s a new baby rhinoceros to ogle at
    In another step toward preserving an endangered species, one of the Zoo’s White Rhinos gave birth at the beginning of April. Rhino mom Holly is doing a great job caring for her calf, according to zoo staff. Also fairly new to the park are six cheetah cubs born in November last year, a baby pygmy hippo, and another rhino calf just a few months old. Not to mention the brand new adult African penguins that now call the zoo their home!
  • Entire species have been saved because of the zoo
    Conservation teams at the San Diego Zoo have aided in bringing back some of the planet’s most endangered species. California condors were down to 22 birds left. Now 200 fly in the wild and another 200 are thriving in breeding facilities thanks to the zoo’s efforts. The zoo has had similar successes with lemurs from Madagascar, douc langers from Vietnam and cheetahs from sub-Saharan Africa. One of the zoo’s top conservation projects right now is the Rhino Rescue. Without the San Diego Zoo and its partners, these animals might soon be extinct. But the zoo’s efforts don’t stop there. Its mission is to end extinction entirely!
  • Online sneak peeks reveal what you’re missing
    If you’re still not convinced that the Zoo is worth the trip to San Diego, get a sneak peek of what you’re missing on its immersive website. Informative videos show off the inner workings of the zoo and the daily lives of its most interesting animals. Live feeds let visitors see what’s happening any time of day with the polar bears, elephants, tigers, pandas and more!
  • 2016 is full of celebration surprises
    This is a big year for the zoo. As it celebrates its centennial, the zoo is inviting all of San Diego and every animal lover in the world to join along in the party. Throughout the year, new exhibits, special events and limited time programs will launch to mark this special occasion. The main event will take place on May 14 at 6 p.m. For a complete list of this year’s special events, visit the zoo’s calendar here.
  • Save money on admission to the Zoo and Safari Park. Try a San Diego Tourist Pass to get discounted. They are great if you are visiting more than one tourist attraction. The most popular at the three for one pass and the Go San Diego Card.

San Diego Zoo Birds