The World Famous San Diego Zoo & Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) is the parent company that operates the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park. It also operates the San Diego Institute for Conservation Research, a group consisting of more than 200 scientists that have dedicated themselves to conservation.

Before I discuss the two world-class parks and provide photographs of their amazing animals (of course there will be photographs!), I have a few words about the great conservation work SDZG is doing and why it’s an organization you can be proud of.

SDZG has a true worldwide conservation program. The Zoo and Safari Park have been designed to connect visitors to its conservation activities. Their work includes not only restoring endangered species to the wild but also helping prevent disease that can threaten wildlife. Lending support to groups that protect against poaching is another key activity.

While strolling through the two parks you can see evidence of the SDZG’s work, from zookeepers hosting meet-and-greets with endangered animals to signs explaining how SDZG is working to reintroduce species to the wild.

According to the Association of Zoo and Aquariums 2013 annual report, SDZG has reintroduced 33 species back to the wild and has more than 80 different field conservation programs. I think its biggest success story is the California condor. When SDZG started its work in 1982 there were only 22 condors in the wild (twenty-two!). In partnership with other organizations, in 1992, they released the first zoo-bred condor chick to the wild. Their condor program has been a huge success. Today there are more than 200 condors in the wild! Of course, you can see condors at both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park. If you want to see one in the wild, the south rim of the Grand Canyon is a good location.

I have mixed feelings about zoos in general but organizations such as SDZG are an exception. It is making an enormous difference in saving threatened wildlife (the California condor is just one example). The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are each accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The AZA has accredited more than 200 zoos and aquariums and is dedicated to advancing conservation and the care of animal species and their habitats. Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) is an AZA program that its members (like the two San Diego parks) participate in. Through this program its members identify threats and response plans.

Klipspringers at the San Diego Zoo (a small African antelope) (Doug Oglesby)

Klipspringers at the San Diego Zoo (a small African antelope).

The AZA has a strict accreditation process that includes on-site inspections covering animal care, veterinary programs, conservation efforts, and many other areas. AZA accredited organizations must be re-accredited at least every five years (the two San Diego parks were just recently re-accredited) and, among other requirements, maintain certain standards for ethical and humane animal care standards, which includes providing sufficient enrichment benefits for the animals. Enrichment refers to things that enable the animals to use their natural instincts and skills to keep them mentally and physically fit.

The Zoo and Safari Park are about 30 miles apart in San Diego (the zoo is in Balboa Park in downtown San Diego and the Safari Park is in Escondido in northern San Diego County). The parks are enormous, constantly evolving and very different from each other.

The zoo is your classic urban zoo. It has very creative and beautiful trails that take you through the exhibits. The Lost Forest, Elephant Odyssey (so much more than just elephants!) and Monkey Trail are just a few of the many amazing trails you can stroll through to see animals. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2015 on a new eight-acre exhibit called Africa Rocks, which will replace the current Dog and Cat Canyons (no, they don’t have dogs and house cats there!). Considering how spectacular its recent new exhibits are (like Elephant Odyssey), I’m sure Africa Rocks will be remarkable. It’s scheduled to open in 2017.

The Safari Park showcases its animals in more natural looking enclosures than the zoo. The park’s main attraction is the expansive African Plains.  At 300 acres it is the largest exhibit in the park and is home to many different species of animals that roam free like they would in Africa – elephants, rhinos and giraffes, for example. Of course, there are no predators in the African Plains; otherwise, it would be a short-lived exhibit (no pun intended).

African lions live just outside the plains but have a view of the plains and can obviously smell the animals, providing a more natural experience. While a tram is the only way to get close to the animals on the Plains, there are several overlooks that provide spectacular views.

Cheetah at the San Diego Safari Park (Doug Oglesby)

Cheetah at the San Diego Safari Park.

The African Plains is worth the price of admission to the Safari Park alone, but there is so much more to see. Other must-see exhibits include the newly opened Tiger Trail, the Lemur Walk (you are actually walking WITHIN the enclosure with lemurs!), Lorikeet Landing (you can feed these beautiful birds by hand but wear a hat – they will land on your head!), the annual spring butterfly exhibit (an experience that occurs only in April within the Hidden Jungle).

For botanical lovers, the Safari Park’s landscaping is astonishing (so is the zoo’s) and the park features their plants through specially designed exhibits and trails, including the Baja Garden, the Conifer Arboretum, the seasonal Epiphyllum House and many others.

A significant number of freeloading birds call the park home, including Snowy Egrets (they love to nest in the trees along the lake in the African Outpost), Black-Crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons and Brandt’s Cormorants. Golden Eagles can sometimes be seen patrolling the skies above the African Plains.

Black-Crowned night heron at the San Diego Safari Park (a park freeloader) (Doug Oglesby)

Black-Crowned night heron at the San Diego Safari Park (a park freeloader).

San Diego’s human residents are likely quite familiar with these two parks. For visitors to San Diego, I highly recommend you carve out the time to see these amazing world-class parks. As you enjoy the parks, be on the lookout for the many ways SDZG is helping to protect the wonderful animals that we are blessed to have.

For more photographs from the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, click here.  FYI – the Safari Park used to be called the Escondido Wild Animal Park.

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