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Welcome to Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens

The Los Angeles Zoo is located in the heart of the nation’s second-largest city. Each year 1.4 million visitors pass through the gates to view a collection of more than 1,200 animals from around the world.

When the Los Angeles Zoo opened in 1966 it was the third zoo to serve the city. In 1885, the city-owned Eastlake Zoo opened in East Los Angeles Park, and in 1912 the Griffith Park Zoo opened up a few miles from the current Los Angeles Zoo site. By 1915, colorful “Colonel” William Selig opened his combination movie studio and zoo, the Selig Zoo, in Lincoln Park.

By 1956, the citizens of Los Angeles realized their city had outgrown the small Griffith Park Zoo and passed a $6.6 million bond measure to help build a new one.

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 even opened, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) had already graduated a class of trained, volunteer docents; produced several issues of a quarterly magazine called Zoo View; and had begun raising money and acquiring animals.

When the Los Angeles Zoo debuted in November 1966, 80,000 Angelenos attended the opening. (Several of the animals that were at the Zoo on opening day are still with us: our Asian elephant Gita, and an alligator, appropriately named Methuselah.) In the interest of health and safety, 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 often plays with toys 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, while other descendants of that original L.A. Zoo herd live on here.

The first Beastly Ball, a safari-themed dinner-dance and a major fundraiser 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 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—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


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