A VIEW OF THE ZOO
Some of LA's most interesting residents are marsupials.
The Los Angeles Zoo is located in the heart of the nation's
second-largest city. Each year 1.3 million visitors pass through the
gates to view a collection of 1,200 animals from around the world.
When the Los Angeles Zoo opened in 1966 it was the third zoo to serve
the city. The privately run Selig Zoo opened in downtown in 1885. It was
surplanted by the Griffith Park Zoo--largely a collection of former
circus animals--in 1912. By 1956, the citizens of Los Angeles realized
their city had outgrown the small zoo and enthusiastically passed a $6.6
million bond measure to help build a new zoo.
A 113-acre site in Griffith Park was chosen, and in 1964 a private,
nonprofit organization was created to support the new effort. Before the
new zoo opened, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association had already
graduated a class of trained, volunteer docents, produced several issues
of Zoo View, a quarterly magazine, and begun raising money and acquiring
animals for the Zoo. Today there are about 550 trained docents, and Zoo
View has been honored with a Maggie Award three times by the Western
When the Los Angeles Zoo opened in November 1966, 80,000 Angelenos
attended the grand opening. Several of the animals that were in the Zoo
on opening day are with us still: elephant Gita, alligator Methuselah,
Indian rhino Herman. The L.A. Zoo was the first major zoo in the United
States to bar visitors from feeding the animals.
Two 3-month-old polar bear cubs arrived at the Zoo in 1967. First dubbed
Polaris and Agena, they were renamed Bruno and Sweetheart by keepers and
lived their entire lives in an exhibit in the Aquatics section. Bruno
died in 1996 of cancer, but Sweetheart is still with us, and still often
plays with empty beer kegs in her pool.
Also in 1967, GLAZA President Margaret Taylor wrote a check for $75,000
to acquire for the Zoo three endangered Arabian oryx. The animals were
quickly becoming extinct in the wild, and over the ensuing years the Los
Angeles Zoo cooperated with the Phoenix Zoo, the only other American zoo
to house oryx, and successfully bred the gazelle-like animals. Later,
descendants of those animals were reintroduced to the wild in Israel,
and other descendants of that original Los Angeles Zoo herd live on
The first Beastly Ball, a safari-themed dinner-dance and a major
fund-raiser for the Zoo, was held in 1970.
In 1972 the Zoo became an accredited member of the American Zoo and
Aquarium Association (AZA) and in 1974 welcomed Dr. Warren D. Thomas as
During his 17-year tenure, Thomas assembled one of the world's most
acclaimed animal collections, adding rare and endangered species such as
the Sumatran rhino, Jentink's duiker, zebra duiker, yellow-footed rock
wallaby, giant eland, gerenuk, emperor tamarin, and bongo. In 1975,
curators decided to sell several of the oryx to a wildlife preserve in
Israel, and the funds raised helped the Zoo to acquire many other rare
and endangered species.
During the 1970s, the Zoo built the Andrew Norman Education Center,
launched ZooMobile, a docent program that took animals to schools, and
built Wolf Woods and Monkey Island, as well as new exhibits for
gorillas, orangutans, flamingos, and bongos.
By 1980 the replacement value of the Zoo's animal collection was valued
at $4 million. The Zoo became part of the new California Condor Recovery
Program and in 1982 built the extensive "condorminiums," still the
finest and largest facility in the condor program.
The Ahmanson Koala House, opened in 1982, made the Los Angeles Zoo the
only Zoo in the world to exhibit these nocturnal animals in a darkened
setting. The facility won a Significant Achievement Award from the AZA.
The next year Los Angeles hosted the Olympics and the Zoo became a
temporary home for two giant pandas. The China Pavilion that was built
specifically to house these endangered bears was later modified to house
rare golden monkeys, then snow leopards. Today it is a powerful animal
holding facility that gives animals such as gelada baboons and polar
bears a place to live safely while their exhibits are being refurbished.
A $3 million challenge grant from the Weingart Foundation provided a
major source of funding for Adventure Island, a new children's zoo that
housed bats and skunks in darkened exhibits, sea lions in a pool with a
waterfall, and prairie dogs in an exhibit that children could see from
prairie dog level. Included with Adventure Island was a nursery with
incubators and other equipment to provide special care for young
After a generous donation from Alice C. Tyler in 1988, a new exhibit was
built to house meerkats for the first time at the Los Angeles Zoo.
Later, artists from Walt Disney Studios would sketch those meerkats and
the Zoo's warthogs and lions to help create the animated characters in
The Lion King.
The 1990s saw an increase in educational programs at the Zoo: Wild About
Science, Dreams Come True at the L.A. Zoo, Zoo Discovery Kits, and
Critters 'n' Kids all helped children better experience the wonders of
the Zoo. A five-year grant from the ARCO Foundation funded ZooReach, a
program that brings children from low-income neighborhoods to the Zoo,
then helps them return with their families. In its fourth year the
program proved that middle school students could successfully teach
younger students about the Zoo, and raise their own self-esteem in the
Zoo Discovery Kits help teachers teach their students about the Zoo, and
provide curriculum for follow-up lessons. The program received a
Significant Achievement Award from the AZA.
Meanwhile new signs appeared at the tiger and elephant exhibits. People
could compare the size of an elephant's foot to their own, or the size
of a tiger's paw to their pet cat's.
New graphics in the play park explained Zoo life to children. A gift
from the Ray Rowe Trust for Animals paid for 81 new exhibit graphics in
the Reptile House.
With a major gift from Nestle USA, the World of Birds Show began in a
wonderful new theater. Keepers continue to improve the show that
features many different animals, including some that fly in from a
hillside behind the theater.
After research from scientists such as Jane Goodall showed that the
psychological welfare of animals was an important component of their
physical welfare, the Zoo created what is now a very large volunteer
behavioral enrichment program in the country. B.E. volunteers work with
keepers to find ways to promote natural behaviors in animals.
Chimpanzees dig food out of logs with twigs; tigers track scents of
rabbits around their exhibits; sea lions play with giant, indestructible
plastic "ice cubes." In 1993 a gift from Purina paid for the
refurbishment of the tiger addition and the addition of a waterfall. A
$1.3 million elephant barn was built in 1994 with private donations and
concessions revenue to better meet the needs of the animals and provide
better ways for keepers to care for these giants.
But while the Zoo was making great strides in areas such as education
and behavioral enrichment, other areas had been allowed to slip for many
years. City budget cuts delayed maintenance and improvements, aged
exhibits went unimproved, even as research showed that animal health
could be improved with better living spaces. The perimeter fence was
riddled with holes and coyotes were allowed to get into the Zoo.
Several flamingos had been killed by the predators. Exhibits were deemed
unsafe for animals and keepers. Pools grew fetid because the water
A trio of officials from the AZA visited the Zoo in 1995 and were
appalled at some of the conditions. The United States Department of
Agriculture cited the Zoo for hundreds of cleanliness and safety
violations. The AZA gave the Zoo a year to clean up or risk losing its
accreditation. In 1995 the City Council appointed Manuel A. Mollinedo, a
career bureaucrat, to take over the Zoo and turn it around. During the
next year Mollinedo pushed for more than 400 exhibit and facility improv
States Department of Agriculture cited the Zoo for hundreds of
cleanliness and safety violations. The AZA gave the Zoo a year to clean
up or risk losing its accreditation. In 1995 the City
In the summer of 1996, the Zoo completed a new gorilla holding area that
provides a secure, safe area for introducing one gorilla to another. The
holding area was built with private donations and concessions revenue.
In October 1996, the Zoo broke ground on the first major new exhibit
since Adventure Island, the Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains.
Designed by CLR Design, and patterned after an abandoned logging camp,
the new exhibit will encourage the chimpanzees' playful nature. They
will have more than twice the space they have in their current exhibit,
with places to hide or climb or play. A "howdy log" will give people a
chance to get face to face with a chimp, with only Plexiglas between
them; and chimps will be able to control a sprayer in the public area.
They will also have a spacious holding area with an open-air penthouse
and private rooms for individuals or families.
Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains, named after a thriving wild troop
in Tanzania, is the first phase of the Zoo's planned Great Ape Forest,
and part of the Master Plan 2002. The Zoo is currently working with CLR
to design a new holding area and exhibit for the orangutans, and new
exhibits for the gorillas.
The people of the City of Los Angeles have once again shown their
support for the Zoo, with passage of County Proposition A and City
Proposition K in November, 1996.
Today the Zoo is optimistic about new exhibits that will provide better
living conditions for the varied and magnificent animals that live here,
and provide a more interesting experience for visitors. The Zoo
continues to participate in conservation programs to preserve native
habitats and ensure that animals can continue to live in the wild. All
over the Zoo there is a spirit of optimism about the future as we look
ahead to being one of the best zoos in the nation, and a zoo that the
people of Los Angeles can truly be proud of.
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