San Diego Wild Animal Park

San Diego has a long history of self-promotion as a tourist mecca. The Hotel del Coronado when completed in 1888 was the largest hotel on the West Coast and marked the beginning of an organized effort to attract visitors to the city. Mission Beach was developed before World War I and became San Diego's "Coney Island". The Panama-Pacific Exposition developed Balboa park in 1915 and led to the organization of the San-Diego-California Club in 1919, the city's first tourist promotion organization, and the opening of the San Diego Zoo (1). The growth of automobility led to an outward dispersal of San Diego. Mission Valley became a suburban shopping mall and hotel center for San Diego after World War II and Mission Bay was reshaped into a park playland. Sea World was located on this Bay in 1964 as the first theme park in San Diego and "constructed a mythical narrative about human relations to nature" (2). The Wild Animal Park continued this effort to transform San Diego into a mythical tourist paradise.

The San Diego Zoological Society became interested in developing a wild animal park in 1964. They wanted to design the park in such a way that it would complement the existing zoological garden which is also known as the San Diego Zoo. This development was decided upon the Zoological Society in order to accommodate the growing interest in wild life and to provide opportunities for public education, specie conservation, and biological research. The major objective of the San Diego Wild Animal Park was to provide an opportunity for endangered and near-extinct species of animals to survive and reproduce. The development proposed for the San Pasqual site would differ significantly from that of a typical zoo in that animals will be exhibited in a natural environment rather than in cages or moated enclosures (3). San Pasqual Valley was chosen to be the site of this new development because it was situated in a suburban area located approximately thirty miles northeast of the existing San Diego Zoo. The terrain of the San Pasqual site resembled parts of Africa (4). Three major drainage channels, chaparral, cactus, and similar growth characterized this site. The city of San Diego owned 1,090 acres of this site while a 160 acres of it was San Diego County Property. Therefore, San Pasqual Valley was included as part of the San Diego County.

During the year 1964, the Stanford Research Institute was asked to evaluate the probable financial success of three alternative developments for the San Pasqual site. The three alternative developments were a conservation farm, a game preserve, and a natural environment zoo. Today the San Diego Wild Animal Park is most like a natural environment zoo, which provides facilities for the public's viewing of the animal collection. The natural environment zoo development was chosen over the conservation farm and game preserve when in fact it cost the most money to develop. Obviously, the cost of development was not the primary deciding factor, but the estimated income was.

The first alternative zoological development considered for the San Pasqual site was a conservation farm. The purposes of this farm would be species conservation, breeding of animals for the San Diego Zoo and for other zoos, and providing areas where zoo animals could be conditioned (5). With this alternative, there would be no provision for public viewing of animals. Many factors were taken into account such as the proposed animal collection, roads, fencing, water supply, animal shelters, and barns and cold storage structures. The estimated initial cost of the San Pasqual Conservation Farm was $394,780 (6). The conservation farm was considered because the neighboring land surrounding the proposed site was agricultural land. The San Diego City's general plan for the San Pasqual site was to be a showplace for agriculture, which would allow for public viewing of farming operations and domesticated farm animals. However, if the conservation farm alternative were chosen, it would require the purchasing of additional land. This additional land would prevent potential conflicts with future zoological activities. The zoological society did not want to purchase this additional land if there would be no public viewing of the farm; therefore they considered the game preserve.

The game preserve was considered the second zoological development for the San Pasqual site. The purposes of the game preserve would be for conservation, breeding, conditioning of animals, and in addition to the conservation farm, it would provide for limited public viewing of the collection of animals. The main difference between the game preserve and the conservation farm is that the game preserve would have a road system that would permit the people to travel around the preserve in their own cars. There would be lookout points along the road system where people could park and get out of their cars. Different factors were taken into consideration when looking at the game preserve as a possible alternative. Unlike the conservation farm, weather, attendance, accessibility, and entertainment value were all taken into account. The estimated initial cost of the San Pasqual Game Preserve was $628,770 (7). Despite the cost, the game preserve would lack major facilities to be provided for the public viewing, no provisions would be made for close contact between the public and the animals, and no promotional advertising would be undertaken. The game preserve would not be seen as a tourist attraction without any promotional advertising and the lack of a nearby freeway. The attendance would be dependent upon local residents and tourists already in the San Diego area. With low or little attendance, the zoological society did not want to put out a large sum of money if they would not make any in return. Therefore, the natural environment zoo was considered.

The third alternative zoological development was the San Pasqual natural environment zoo. This natural environment zoo would provide facilities for the public's viewing of the animal collection that in turn would attract and accommodate the public. This factor was given considerably more importance in this alternative than in the plans for the game preserve and conservation farm (8). The main purposes of this zoo would be species conservation, breeding of animals for the San Diego Zoo as well as other zoos, and providing areas were zoo animals may be conditioned. The main difference between the other two alternatives and the natural environment zoo is that the natural environment zoo would allow for the public viewing of the animal collection. Animals such as the Masai lions African elephants, White rhinoceroses, Ceylonese elephants, tigers, Asiatic lions, Indian rhinoceroses, and the ape buffalo would be moated to provide obstructed viewing in a natural setting (9). Instead of having a road system for public viewing as in the game preserve, a railroad would be built that would stop at major moated areas to provide the public with extended viewing times. Buses would also be considered. Attendance and entertainment value were the two major factors considered in the development of this site. The estimated initial cost of the San Pasqual Natural Environment Zoo was $1,755,420. The natural environment zoo alternative was chosen because 89.0% of people asked, "If the total cost of both admission and train or bus ride were $1.00 for adults and $0.50 for children under 12, do you think that you would go to the Back Country Zoo?' answered yes (10). Therefore, the zoological society concluded that money would not be an issue and in the year 1969 the San Diego Wild Animal Park began its construction.

On May 14, 1969 ground was broken at the San Pasqual Wild Animal Park which now called the San Diego Wild Animal Park (11). Dr. Charles R. Schroeder was the director emeritus and was also the one individual who began investigating the possibility of building a "back country zoo" (12) The general layout of the park, which was designed by Charles Faust, included a large lagoon with a jungle plaza and an African fishing village replica, which is now called Nairobi Village. An aviary would characterize the entrance of the park with many different birds flying freely about. Approximately 50,000 plants were to be planted around the visitor's area. The scheduled opening day of the park was set for April 1, 1972, however the gates did not open until Wednesday, May 10, 1972. Although the park was scheduled to open in three years from the time of ground breaking, the total development of the park was estimated to take ten years. Five titles were considered when naming the San Pasqual site. The San Diego Wild Animal Park was chosen over San Diego Animaland, San Diego Safari Land, San Diego Wild Animal Safari and San Diego Wildlife Park because it was concise and descriptive. The first two animals to arrive at the San Diego Wild Animal Park were the Nilgai, an antelope from the plains of North India and the black and white striped Grant, a native zebra to East Africa (13). By opening day, the park will have more than 1,000 animals in near-natural environments.

May 10, 1972 marked the opening day for the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Initially, the San Diego Wild Animal Park was going to be an overflow from the Zoological Garden with some public participation, but it ended up being its own tourist attraction. Visitors first entered the park through the world's largest free-flight aviary. At the entrance, there was also the Thorn Tree Terrace Cafeteria, the Mombassa cooker snack bar and terrace, and an animal care center. There was an hour long ride on the Wgasa Bush line monorail that would take visitors through five major exhibit areas: East, South, and North Africa, Asian Plains, and Asian Swamps. An added feature to the San Diego Wild Animal Park was the charter bus transportation that transported people from the San Diego Zoo to the Wild Animal Park. Animals to be viewed at the park were various birds, mammals, and reptiles. The San Diego Wild Animal turned out to be a success.


  1. Davis 1997, p. 42
  2. Davis 1997, p. 53
  3. Crampon, p. 56
  4. Crampon, p. 53
  5. Moran, p. 49
  6. Moran, p. 62
  7. Moran, p. 84
  8. Moran, p. 89
  9. Moran, p. 89
  10. Moran, p. 91
  11. Lundgren
  12. Gibbons, p. 5
  13. Berhman


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