San Francisco Zoo in San Francisco

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The San Francisco Zoo, housing more than 260 animal species, is a zoo located in the southwestern corner of San Francisco, California, between Lake Merced and the Pacific Ocean along the Great Highway. The zoo's main entrance, once located on the north side across Sloat Boulevard and one block south of the Muni Metro L Taraval line, is now to the west on the ocean side of the zoo off of the Great Highway.

This zoo is the birthplace of Koko the gorilla.



Originally named the Fleishhacker Zoo after its founder, banker and San Francisco Parks Commission president Herbert Fleishhacker, planning for construction began in 1929 on the site adjacent to what was once the largest swimming pool in the United States, the Fleishhacker Pool. The area was also already home to a children’s playground, an original Michael Dentzel carousel, and the Mother’s Building, a haven for women and their children. Most of the exhibits were populated with animals transferred from Golden Gate Park, including two zebras, a cape buffalo, five rhesus monkeys, two spider monkeys, and three elephants (Virginia, Marjorie, and Babe).


The first exhibits built in the 1930s cost US$3.5 million, which included Monkey Island, Lion House, Elephant House, a small mammal grotto, an aviary and bear grottos. These spacious, moated enclosures were among the first bar-less exhibits in the country. In 1955, a local San Francisco newspaper purchased Pennie, a baby female Asian elephant, and donated her to the zoo after many children donated their pennies, nickels, and dimes for her purchase.

Over the next 40 years, the Zoological Society became a powerful fundraising source for the San Francisco Zoo, just as Fleishhacker had hoped when he envisioned: "…a Zoological Society similar to those established in other large cities. The Zoological Society will aid the Parks Commission in the acquisition of rare animals and in the operation of the zoo." True to its charter, the Society immediately exerted its influence on the zoo, obtaining more than 1,300 annual memberships in its first 10 years (nearly 25,000 today). It also funded projects like the renovation of the Children’s Zoo in 1964, development of the African Scene in 1967, the purchase of medical equipment for the new zoo Hospital in 1975, and the establishment of the Avian Conservation Center in 1978.

Present day

In November 2004, Tinkerbelle, San Francisco Zoo's last Asian elephant, was moved to a sanctuary (PAWS-Performing Animal Welfare Society) in the Sierra. Lulu, an African elephant, joined her there in March 2005, so no elephants are on display at the zoo. The moves followed the highly publicized deaths of 38-year-old Calle in March 2004 and 43-year-old Maybelle in April 2004.

The San Francisco Zoo is the largest and oldest zoo in northern California.

In early 2006, the SF Zoo announced its offer to name a soon-to-hatch American bald eagle after comedian Stephen Colbert. The publicity and goodwill garnered from coverage of the event on the Colbert Report was a windfall for the zoo and the city of San Francisco. Stephen Jr. was born on April 17, 2006.

Insect Zoo

The Insect Zoo opened in 1979 and features terrariums containing live arthropods, including millipedes, centipedes, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, tarantulas, scorpions, velvet ants, termites, walkingsticks and bees. Visitors can examine specimens under microscopes, and there are insect-themed books, videos, puppets and games.

Exhibit renovations

  • Otter River (1994) featuring North American river otters
  • Feline Conservation Center (1994) housing three species of small cats, including the snow leopard, ocelot, and Malayan fishing cats
  • Spectacled bear exhibit renovation (1994)
  • Lion House outdoor enclosures (1994)
  • Eagle Island renovation (1995) providing a home for Sureshot, an injured (and non-releasable) bald eagle
  • Australian WalkAbout (1995) new space for red kangaroos and emus
  • Flamingo Lake renovation (1995)
  • Monkey Island demolition (1995)
  • Hippopotamus exhibit renovation (1995)
  • Warthog exhibit (1996)
  • Billabong (1996)
  • Aviary renovation (1996)
  • Ring-tailed lemur exhibit renovation (1996)
  • Children’s Zoo entrance (1996)
  • Kodiak bear exhibit (1996)
  • Avian Conservation Center (1997)
  • African lion cub exhibit (1997)
  • Aye-aye Forest (1997)
  • Asian elephant exhibit renovations (1997 and 1999)
  • Rainbow Landing (now Lorikeet Landing) (1998)
  • Outdoor aviary demolition (1998)
  • Restoration of Little Puffer (miniature railroad) (1998)
  • Primate Discovery Center terrace exhibit renovation (1998)
  • Children’s Zoo renovation (1999)
  • Puente al Sur (1999) now houses giant anteaters, mountain tapirs, and capybara
  • Infrastructure replacement (1999)
  • Aviary renovation (2000) depicts a South American tropical forest, complete with birds, caiman, and an anaconda
  • Seal pool/bear exhibits (2000)
  • Connie and Bob Lurie Education Center (2001)
  • Koret Animal Resource Center (2001)
  • Expanded Children’s Zoo and Family Farm (2001)
  • Wetlands habitat (2001)
  • Cassowary Exhibit (2001) features double-wattled cassowaries, one of the world's largest bird species
  • Lipman Family Lemur Forest (2002) houses five species of Madagascan primates in an outdoor forest
  • Friend and Taube Entry Village (2002)
  • Leaping Lemur Café (2002)
  • Split Mound artwork by McCarren/Fine (2002)
  • Bronze lion sculptures by Gwynn Murrill (2002)
  • Zoo Street and parking (2002)
  • Dentzel Carousel (2002)
  • African Savanna (2004) features giraffe, zebra, kudu, ostrich and other African wildlife roaming together in a lush, 3 acre (1 ha) habitat.
  • African Savanna Giraffe Feedings (2006)
  • Black swan exhibit (2006)
  • Binnowee Landing and Feeding (formerly Lorikeet Landing) (2006)
  • Kunekune pig exhibit at the Family Farm (formerly the miniature pig exhibit) (2006)
  • Hearst Grizzly Gulch exhibit (opened June 14, 2007)
  • Big Cat Exhibit Renovations (January 2008)
  • Hippopotamus and Rhinoceros exhibits (the 2 hippos, Puddles and Cuddles, died while renovation) (2007–2009)
  • Little Puffer restoration (2009)
  • South American Tropical Rainforest Aviary asbestos removal (2009–2010)
  • Fishing cat exhibit (2010)

Animals and Exhibits

African Region

African Savannah

  • Grey Crowned Crane
  • Grant's Zebra
  • Greater Kudu
  • Marabou Stork
  • Ostrich
  • Reticulated Giraffe
  • Scimitar Oryx
  • Spur-winged Goose

African Aviary

  • Günther's Dik-dik
  • Hadada Ibis
  • Hamerkop
  • Northern Bald Ibis

Gorilla Reserve

  • Western lowland gorilla

Primate Discovery Forest

  • Black Howler Monkey
  • Chimpanzee
  • Emperor tamarin
  • Francois' langur
  • Lion-tailed macaque
  • Mandrill
  • Patas monkey
  • Pied tamarin
  • Siamang

Lemur Forest

  • Black-and-white ruffed lemur
  • Black lemur
  • Red-ruffed lemur
  • Ring-tailed lemur

Cat Kingdom

  • Indian rhinoceros
  • Baird's Tapir
  • Eastern Black Rhinoceros
  • Giant Eland
  • Grey Seal
  • Hippopotamus

Penguin Island

  • Magellanic Penguin

Lion House

  • African Lion
  • Fishing Cat
  • Snow leopard
  • Sumatran tiger

South America

  • Black-necked Swan
  • Black Swan
  • Capybara
  • Giant Anteater
  • Maguari Stork
  • White-faced Whistling Duck

South American Tropical Tortoise

  • Blue Poison Dart Frog
  • Golfodulcean Poison Frog
  • Green Anaconda
  • Waxy Monkey Tree Frog

Pelican Beach

  • Great White Pelican

Bear Country

  • Polar bear
  • Spectacled bear
  • Warthog

Eagle Island

  • Bald Eagle


Tiger attacks

On December 22, 2006, Tatiana the 242-pound Siberian tiger attacked zookeeper Lori Komejan, causing the keeper to be hospitalized for several weeks with lacerated limbs and shock. The Lion House was closed for ten months as a result. California's Division of Occupation Safety and Health found the zoo liable for the keeper's injuries, fined the zoo, and ordered safety improvements.

On December 25, 2007, the same tiger escaped from her grotto and attacked three zoo visitors after being taunted by the visitors. Carlos Sousa, 17, of San Jose, California was killed at the scene. The tiger was shot and killed by police as she was attacking another victim, who survived. Three other tigers who shared Tatiana's grotto did not escape. Tatiana arrived at the San Francisco Zoo from the Denver Zoo in 2005, in hopes that she would mate. (This "Tatiana" is not the same as the one successfully breeding in the Toronto Zoo.) The attack is the first visitor fatality due to animal escape at a member zoo in the history of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, according to the association.

Species Survival Projects

The San Francisco Zoo participates in Species Survival Plans, conservation programs sponsored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The program began in 1981 for selected species in North American zoos and aquarium where the breeding of a species done to maintain healthy, self-sustaining, genetically diverse and demographically stable populations. The zoo participates in more than 30 SSP programs, working to conserve species ranging from Madagascan radiated tortoises and reticulated giraffes to black rhinos and gorillas. Also, four members of the zoo's animal care staff serve as coordinators for national population management plans, acting as genetic advisors in the reproduction and conservation of species including marbled teal (an endangered eastern European duck), caracal (an African wild cat), Eurasian eagle owl (the world's largest owl species), Northern Treeshrew, and the native San Francisco garter snake (a critically endangered species).


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