Sacramento Zoo to celebrate 90th anniversary June 17

By Lance Armstrong
The Sacramento Zoo recently turned 90 years old, and to celebrate that milestone, the public is invited to join in a birthday bash at the zoo on June 17.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., zoo guests will be presented with continuous activities, including games, crafts, wildlife stage shows, magic shows and the opportunity to visit Herkimer, the zoo’s resident desert tortoise, who is also celebrating his 90th birthday.
Unlike the zoo itself, Herkimer has no actual known birthday, thus his stated 90 years of life is only an estimate. He was donated to the zoo by a family from Southern California in 1991.
Tonja Candelaria, a spokesperson for the zoo, said that children who attend the upcoming 90th birthday bash at the zoo can expect to be entertained in a festive way.
“(The event will have) everything you would expect if you go to a kid’s birthday party,” she said. “We’re going to have inflatable bounce houses; we’re going to have birthday hats.”
As the zoo prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary with its guests, it is timely to present a few historical details about this popular facility, which draws about 500,000 guests per year.
The road to the zoo’s 90th anniversary began with its opening on June 2, 1927.
Originally known as the William Land Park Zoo, the 14-acre Sacramento Zoo began on a 4-acre site with animals that were previously housed in displays at local parks.
Among the first animals at the then-city-owned zoo were deer, monkeys, raccoons and birds.
In 1929, the Sacramento City Council addressed the topic of increasing the zoo’s attractions. And for that purpose, the council recommended that a commission be appointed.
Among the animals living at the zoo by 1933 were a male and a female lion, leopards, ocelot, various bears, including sun bears and a honey bear, large-sized kangaroos, a tree-climbing kangaroo, buffalo, coyotes, deer, elk, coatis, spider monkeys, Japanese monkeys, a Chinese monkey, alligators, porcupines, raccoons, de-scented skunks, a possum, squirrels, ostriches, eagles, peacocks, ducks and geese.
It was at that time when Robert J. Patterson, who resided at 3200 6th Ave., was serving as the zoo’s superintendent.
Patterson told The Sacramento Union in 1933 that the zoo’s two sun bears originally lived in the Malay Peninsula.
One was acquired in a trade for an alligator and the other was given to the zoo by the Zoological Society of Sacramento – an organization not associated with today’s Sacramento Zoological Society.
Another worker at the zoo at that time was Manuel J. Silva, who resided with his family at 2632 Franklin Blvd.
Due to his longtime work with the zoo’s monkeys, Silva was known by Portuguese people in the community as “Manuel do Macacos” (“Manuel of the Monkeys”).
Although the city of Sacramento declined an offer of an elephant donation for their zoo in 1937, elephants would ultimately be housed at the zoo.
In a fundraising effort through The Union, the zoo acquired one of its all-time memorable animals, an elephant named Sue (Sacramento Union elephant) in 1948.
The energy behind the drive was partially fueled by local newspaper articles, including a July 21, 1948 Union article, which has the headline, “Any zoo without an elephant is like a hot dog without any mustard.”
The financial goal of $4,000 for purchasing the elephant was reached in late August 1948 and the animal was delivered to the zoo less than three months later.
Sue’s best friend, an elephant named Winkie, was acquired by the zoo in May 1955.
Another elephant, GOP, was donated to the zoo 12 years later by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who had been gifted the animal by Prince Leka of Albania.
Today, the Sacramento Zoo does not house any elephants.
Candelaria mentioned that the zoo no longer has an interest in housing large animals like elephants.
“We used to house elephants, we used to house hippos,” she said. “We made the decision that we want to focus on giving the animals that we have the best quality of life that we can. And sometimes that means not having animals like elephants at the Sacramento Zoo.
“If we had elephants, we couldn’t necessarily put the means and the caring for the other animals we have. (Elephants) require a lot of space. They are social animals, so we would have to have more than one. If we had elephants, that would probably be one of the only species that we had at the Sacramento Zoo.”
The zoo underwent a major modernization and expansion project in the early 1960s.
Hank Spencer was the zoo’s superintendent during that project, which was an investment of more than $250,000. Spencer began working for the city in 1929.
The project included the zoo’s current entrance structure and concessions building, a monkey island, five, large, rock-walled moats for lions, bears and tigers, new cages for smaller cats and field animals, a flamingo pond, and cages for gorillas, orangutans and small animals.
Prior to that project, many animals were housed in wooden cages that had been constructed by Works Progress Administration laborers during the Depression.
In 1970, more improvements were made at the zoo and the city approved the zoo’s first master plan in its 43-year-history.
The Sacramento Zoological Society assumed complete financial and daily operational management of the zoo in July 1997.
Another notable part of the zoo’s history has been it events, which have included the Ice Cream Safari, the California Celebration multicultural day, the King of Feasts food and wine luau, Zoo Camp, and the “Boo at the Zoo” Halloween and Holiday Magic events.
The zoo has continued to undergo improvements, including adding various exhibits, throughout the years and its latest master plan is currently being developed.
Candelaria commented about the zoo’s many changes during its history.
“Over the decades, the Sacramento Zoo has transitioned, along with other zoos across the country, from being just a facility that exhibits animals to the public to really a conservation-minded and focused organization.”
Candelaria added that the zoo is very excited to be celebrating its 90th anniversary.
“We are incredibly excited,” she said. “Any milestone is a good milestone for the Sacramento Zoo. We’ve had a longstanding history in the community, and we hope to celebrate another 90 years and beyond.”
The zoo, which is currently under the direction of Dr. Kyle Burks and is home to about 560 animals, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The address of the zoo is 3930 West Land Park Drive.

For additional information about the zoo and its upcoming birthday bash event, visit the website or call 808-5888.

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