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

Publications Association.

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

Zoo Director.

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

wasn't changed.

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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