We did start the visit with a ride on the Skyfari, a small gondola suspended by cables far above the grounds. It provided quite a view, but Val, not being a huge fan of heights, seemed more concerned about me shifting around to look down on the animals below than about the panorama before us.
Back on terra firma, we found ourselves in a less-crowded area of the zoo to start our explorations. When we arrived at Panda Canyon, we passed signs saying ‘if you are standing at this point, you have a 35 minute wait to see the pandas’, and sauntered on ahead with no lineup at all.
So often, when visiting a zoo, you will pass an enclosure and not see any sign of life not matter how hard you look. Or the animal will be holed up in a corner, fast asleep. Today, pretty well every spot we visited provided a good look at the resident animal, and most of the time they were also active.
We saw pandas, monkeys, wart hogs, gazelles, needle-nosed alligators, rattlesnakes, flamingoes, orangutangs, hyraxes, turtles, grizzly bears, peacocks, giraffes, dromedaries, tapirs…you get the idea. There were standard zoo animals and others, like guanacos and takins, that we’d never heard of.
The argus pheasant was the most extraordinary bird I have ever seen. It was the size of a peacock, but its huge, two-pronged tail was even longer than the peacock’s and its feathers, though black and white, were covered with thousands of spots.
Another special thing about the San Diego Zoo was the landscaping. It was lush, varied and beautiful, with exotic palms and ferns, pools and waterfalls, rocks and trees. Janice, one of the zoo volunteers, told us the plants here are, in some cases, more valuable than the animals. Many of them are labeled, too, so you have an idea of what you are looking at. The literature says there are 4,500 different plants in all.
We learned that this zoo was one of the first, back in the 1920s, to separate the animals with moats instead of cages with bars. The zoo grew from the California-Panama Exposition in 1915 when an exotic animal display was set up for visitors. From 1925 to 1953, this zoo was the only one in the world to have a female zoo director, Belle Benchley.
It was fun to see all the people enjoying the park on this beautiful day today. Little kids, grandparents and everyone in between were exploring the different sections and learning about everything from dung beetles to elephants. We were glad to be among them!