The San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, San Diego,
California, is one of the most progressive zoos in the world,
with over 4,000 animals of more than 800 species. It is also one
of the few zoos in the world that houses the giant panda. It is
privately operated by the nonprofit Zoological Society of San
Diego on 100 acres (40 ha) of parkland leased from the City of
San Diego, and ownership of all animals, equipment and other
assets rests with the City of San Diego. The San Diego Zoo is an
accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
and the American Association of Museums (AAM), and a member of
the Zoological Association of America (ZAA) and the World
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).
The San Diego Zoo grew out of exotic animal exhibitions
abandoned after the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Dr. Harry
M. Wegeforth founded the Zoological Society of San Diego,
meeting October 2, 1916, which initially followed precedents set
by the New York Zoological Society at the Bronx Zoo. He served
as president of the society until 1941. A permanent tract of
land in Balboa Park was set aside in August 1921, and the zoo
began to move in the following year. Ellen Browning Scripps
financed a fence around the zoo so that it could begin charging
an entrance fee to offset costs. The publication ZooNooz
commenced in early 1925.
Frank Buck went to work as temporary director for the San Diego
Zoo on June 13, 1923, signed to a three-year contract by Dr.
Wegeforth. Dr. William T. Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoo,
had recommended Buck for the job. But Buck quickly clashed with
the strong-willed Wegeforth and left the zoo after three months
to return to animal collecting. In 1932, a San Diego county
assessor hosted an auction to sell the animals to pay for the
zoo's unpaid property taxes. The stunt resulted in no bidders
and the zoo then fell under the city's ownership.
After several other equally short-lived zoo directors, Dr.
Wegeforth appointed the zoo's bookkeeper, Belle Benchley, to the
position of executive secretary, in effect zoo director; she was
given the actual title of zoo director a few years later. She
served as zoo director from 1925 until 1953. For most of that
time she was the only female zoo director in the world. She was
succeeded as director by Dr. Charles Schroeder. The San Diego
Zoo has been a pioneer in building "cageless" exhibits. Dr.
Wegeforth was determined to create moated exhibits from the
start, and the first lion area at the San Diego Zoo without
enclosing wires opened in 1922. Until the 1960s, admission for
children under 16 was free regardless of whether they were
accompanied by a paying adult.
The zoo's Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES)
was founded in 1975 at the urging of Dr. Kurt Benirschke, who
became its first director. CRES was renamed the division of
Conservation and Research for Endangered Species in 2005 to
better reflect its mission. In 2009 CRES was significantly
expanded to become the Institute for Conservation Research. An
orangutan named Ken Allen was reported in several newspapers in
the summer of 1985 for repeatedly escaping from the supposedly
escape-proof orangutan enclosure. The world's only albino koala
in a zoological facility was born September 1, 1997, at the San
Diego Zoo and was named Onya-Birri, which means "ghost boy" in
an Australian Aboriginal language. The San Diego Zoo also has
the largest number of koalas outside of Australia.