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San Diego Zoo I visited the San Diego zoo for the first time in ten years a few weeks ago...

Discussion in 'United States' started by BenFoxster, 8 May 2023.

  1. BenFoxster

    BenFoxster Well-Known Member

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    After many months of anticipation, I finally visited the San Diego Zoo for the second time in my life (the first time was around 2010 or 2011 when I was less than 12 years old. While it was nice, I hate to admit it, but overall I sort of found the zoo rather underwhelming and a bit disappointing overall. For being the "world's greatest zoo" I found the majority of the zoo exhibits of the same quality or worse than those of most SoCal zoos I've visited (Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, and LA Zoo).

    My biggest issue with the zoo was with the exhibits themselves. 90% of the zoo enclosures were completely covered with unnecessary boulders, trees, bushes, and other obstructions making most of the enclosures only 40% visible to guests. The biggest offenders I felt were the Capybara/Tapir enclosure and mandrill exhibit. The capybara enclosure was 60% covered by a massive stone wall making viewing impossible aside from one spot. The layout of the enclosure was strange as well, as guests had to look ten feet down to see the animals. I don't understand why such animals were made so difficult to view and put into such a deep enclosure. The width of the exhibit was nice, but being as the animals aren't prone to jumping I see no reason why they could not have been exhibited to eye level with guests. The mandrills were strange because from the first floor of its exhibit the entire back wall was covered with trees, making viewing impossible. I understand many of the animals need privacy too, but most zoos do a much better job of giving enclosures a better mixture of privacy for the animals and viewing for guests.

    Not to mention that many of the enclosures with completely overgrown with plants. The serval exhibit was packed from the wall to wall, floor to roof with plants, as were the leopard exhibits. When I and a crowd of guests were watching the leopard there was literally only one angle where you could actually see the animal, an angle where only two people at a time could see it. It wasn't trying to hide either. It was a massive leopard standing on its hind legs eating a hanging carcass but 90% of the animal was covered behind trees and bushes. I've never had any trouble seeing a leopard in any other zoo prior. We ended up having to take turns with other guests to view the leopard, as a man and his baby offered to let us see it from his spot.

    The elephants and giraffes had very underwhelming enclosures, being that they were just plain empty yards of dirt. For being a world-class zoo I was expecting their exhibits to be better than the ones from the Fresno Chaffee Zoos' relatively recent African Adventure (which I really enjoy!) I preferred the Santa Barbara zoo's giraffe enclosure as well, being that it was spacious and provided guests with overhead viewing. Not to mention the gorgeous trees and plants surrounding the exhibits. Even San Diego's lion enclosure felt really underwhelming compared to the lion enclosures from Santa Barbara and Fresno Chaffee, both of which provide the animals with viewing of the giraffes. The San Diego Zoo's lion exhibit felt really boring and lazy. It was small with nothing but a net thrown over it and large platform for the animals to rest on. The capybara exhibits at the other zoos were better than the one from San Deigo too.

    The polar bear's exhibit was nice, even though the bear was inactive. I thought it strange that the zebras and other hoofstock were displayed next to the polar bear, and one hills making viewing of the animals difficult. Many of the animal rarities I wanted to see (the tassie devil, hyenas, wombat, bonobos, fishing cat, coconut crab, and more) were completely off display and there was only one little orangutan on display by him (or her) self as I assume the rest were off display. Their okapis, cassowaries, and tree kangaroos were moved to the Safari Park. The animal I most wanted to see, the honey badger, was apparently moved off the display to the public, as an employee told me that the animal could only be seen from the bus, and the hyenas were moved to the Safari Park apparently. Many of the exhibits seemed surprisingly old-fashioned for being a world-class zoo, specifically the long stretch of grotto exhibits featuring the sun bear, snow leopard, sloth bear, and worse of all the penguins. I'd heard so many great things about the penguin exhibit, but seeing it in person it was sort of depressing. They were in a plain empty ugly exhibit covered in netting by the bears. The exhibit was just nothing but stone and a shallow pool for them to swim. They looked sad as all of them were just sitting on the stone concrete floor. I heard they were displayed with leopard sharks, but no sharks were in the enclosure on my visit. In comparison, the Santa Barbara zoo has a gorgeous penguin exhibit with naturalistic rocks for them to climb, and underwater viewing that leads you into a tunnel with piranhas, snapping turtles, caimans, etc.

    I did however really enjoy seeing the takin exhibit (that baby was so cute!), the red pandas (they were super playful and active), geladas, koalas, polar bear, hippos, and really loved the sloth bear even if his exhibit wasn't as nice (my first time ever seeing them!) Overall though, I, unfortunately, don't see myself going back, what with the price and long drive. It wasn't bad by any means, but I didn't see this being the best zoo in the world. I hope next year I can revisit Santa Barbara and Fresno's zoos (and LA as I haven't been to that zoo in ten years) so I can compare. But I think I overall preferred the atmosphere and overall exhibits of the smaller zoos better.
     
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  2. Moebelle

    Moebelle Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    I've only skimmed this so far but it feels like I'm reading a bunch of criticisms for how good some of these exhibits are.

    Not sure how you came to the conclusion about the Penguin exhibit - especially if you knew they were exhibited with the sharks. It's easily top 3 in the country. What you saw was a temporary precaution to the bird flu.
     
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  3. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    This is actually a topic that will come up in a thread I'm planning to start soon, analyzing the top exhibits for various popular species across US Zoos. What I've come to the conclusion of when doing research is, in many cases, what separates the top tier zoo from lower tier zoos isn't the presence of exceptional exhibits, but the sheer quantity of them. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that I have found numerous examples of incredible zoo exhibits at facilities seldom mentioned on Zoo Chat, due to the fact the facilities are on the smaller side, don't have notable rarities, or are at locations not many visit. That's not to say San Diego, Bronx, Omaha, etc. don't all have great exhibits, as they do, but what sets these zoos apart from the rest is not that exhibit quality is a step above what can be found elsewhere, but instead sheer size, their collection, and the number of incredible exhibits they have (which often comes down to size and budget).
     
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  4. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I really don't understand your issue here - there's plenty of viewing opportunities and most animals weren't hard to see or find.

    The elephant exhibit is bare i agree, but it's not atypical of elephant exhibits either given they're hard on vegetation.
    Giraffe exhibit could be improved on, and probably will at some point.

    It's because they're two separate areas technically. They're not side by side either.

    Hyena haven't been on display for years now afaik. Wombats also moved off exhibit a couple years ago. Are you referring to the old or new coconut crab exhibit? Far as the others, just unlucky.

    Okapis are temporary due to renovations on the next door hippo exhibit. Cassowaries and tree roos left the zoo years ago and the animals at the safari park are not the same animals the zoo previously had.

    As you said, there is possibility to see it still by taking the bus tour, and people have successfully done so. It's only semi-off display.

    Old fashioned but quite likely to be seeing an upgrade before too long, as chunk by chunk the zoo has been getting rid of those old grottos.

    That wasn't the normal Penguin exhibit, as already stated - that is the temporary exhibit because of bird flu. Did you not see the normal penguin/Shark exhibit in Africa Rocks??

    Overall to me, it sounds like you didn't do your research ahead of time and are now griping about it. Many of the things you list anticipating have been gone for years and/or have been well publicized...
     
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  5. BenFoxster

    BenFoxster Well-Known Member

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    Sounds like it'll be an interesting thread, I can't wait to read it! San Diego definitely had quantity and rarities to back it up, even if most of them were off display the day I went. Being all the good things I hear about the San Diego and all the bad things I hear about any zoo that isn't San Diego, I expected most of the ABC animals at the very least to have really high-quality exhibits. I guess that's terrible wording, the exhibits were mostly all good, yes. But considering the zoo's reputation, I thought they'd make the other zoos look ultra-tiny in comparison. I'm a big fan of Fresno Chaffee and Santa barbara zoo, though I'm judging by memory as I haven't been to either since before the pandemic. This is my first time going to any zoo since then. I love Fresno's African Adventure area with elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, etc. All four animals I felt had better enclosures at Fresno than the ones at San Diego, more spacious, but also aesthetically pleasing with gorgeous grass, stones, etc. African Adventure makes me feel like I'm actually in Africa, though it seems to go very unnoticed by most here on ZooChat, which supports your idea that smaller zoos tend to go more unrecognized. Same thing with Santa Barbara, it has a lot fewer animals, but I prefer its quality over quantity approach with its giraffes, lions, penguins, snow leopard, and amur leopard all having larger and more aesthetically pleasing enclosures than the ones at San Diego.

    Though I haven't visited (and therefore cannot offer a valid opinion), based on YouTube videos and digital tours I've watched, I feel that Nashville, Columbus, and the Jacksonville Zoo deserve a lot more recognition than they get. Then again, I'm still new to ZooChat so maybe they do get a lot and I just have not noticed. Obviously not every zoo and zoo animal can have the best exhibits in the world, but I guess I expected more for San Diego with its reputation. Doesn't help that most of the rarities were off exhibit the day of my trip. :(
     
  6. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Cough, the actual Penguin exhibit and not the temporary one.

    [​IMG]


    Again, many of the ones you missed either haven't been on display in years and/or have been publicized they're moving temporarily. Others you just got unlucky which is normal to not see a few species...
     
  7. BenFoxster

    BenFoxster Well-Known Member

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    I noticed very few viewing possibilities compared to that of other zoos I've visited. The amount of walls covering practically entire exhibits overwhelmed me, not to mention the overgrown weeds, leaves and bushes found in many of the exhibits. I understand most animals like the leopard, serval, and maned wolf hide in plantation in the wild, but the maned wold was up to its eyes deep in tall grass and weeds. The serval exhibit was completely covered in foliage to the point that it was completely invisible. I know its difficult to have plants and grass with elephants and most herbivores, but Fresno Chaffee is able to do it with their elephants. At the very least San Diego could have put bushes and trees surrounding the elephant enclosure. there was very little in terms of trees to provide shade for guests in Elephant Oddessey overall.

    I did some research on the San Diego zoo's website to find out which mammals they have in advance, though I'm aware that the site lists both their zoo and safari park residents on one site, making it difficult to know which zoo exhibits which animals, and hyena was on that list. The employee I asked told me that their hyenas were transferred to the Safari Park a few months ago, but I can't find anyone online who can confirm and they aren't pictured on the website's Safari Park map. If the wombats aren't on exhibit I wonder why their enclosure still has its informational sign up, or why it was on the park map? For the coconut crab, I assume the new exhibit that was near the fishing cat. There was a sign saying it was off-exhibit. I was not aware of the okapis and others moving, thanks for letting me know. If I ever go back in another 5 or 10 years I'll take the bus this time, even if seeing the honey badger isn't a guarantee. They're my favorite animal along tassie devils, so seeing them both would have made my day. The party I was with didn't want to do the bus by the time I'd asked an employee about them, so I was out of luck by then.

    Yeah, hopefully the giraffes and grotto residents get upgraded soon. Still weird to see exhibits like that at such a renowned zoo though. I was not aware that the penguins were in a temporary exhibit until a few hours ago when I watched a SD Zoo 2021 virtual tour uploaded back in 2021 on YouTube, showing off Africa Rocks. Africa Rocks when I visited did not look anything like the video when I visited. It took me an hour after that to find out why the penguins were moved, I could not find a single source or news article explaining the scenario on Google at all. No announcement on their website either. It took hours of browsing through ZooChat threads to finally find a comment from someone asking why the penguins were moved to the grotto.
     
  8. BenFoxster

    BenFoxster Well-Known Member

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    Ah, gotcha. I barely found out about this a few hours ago, saw a vid on YT and it actually did look amazing. It really did have sharks and underwater viewing, might have been twice the size of Santa Barbara's after all! When will they be back to their original enclosure, the comment I found mentioning their temporary move was from back in November of 2022, its taking a while and they look really sad in the grotto.
     
  9. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    You wouldn't like Woodland Park Zoo either then. Nothing wrong with some extra viewing challenge and privacy for the animal.

    This I do agree with.

    It also lists Dolphins and Manatees - neither of which the zoo has ever held. Their website is not an accurate list of what they hold. It also doesn't mean they're on exhibit.

    This is correct - they rotate into the Lion exhibit at night and are shunted back off during the day, they're basically nigh impossible to see.

    There's no wombat that I see on the current zoo map...

    That's the old one - it moved to the Wildlife Explorers Base Camp in the insect building.

    There was some at the time iirc - hard to find now though I do see.

    Unclear - whenever the zoo feels avian flu is not a potential threat to the colony. It's one of the biggest colonies on the continent and they don't want to take risks.
     
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  10. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Hyenas also aren't rare at all.
     
  11. BenFoxster

    BenFoxster Well-Known Member

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    None here in SoCal I'm afraid. Still never seen one before.
     
  12. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Not having others in one particular area doesn't make them rare.
     
  13. Pleistocene891

    Pleistocene891 Well-Known Member

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    Analyzing the top exhibits would easily be one of my favorite threads on this site!
     
  14. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    What happened to the ones at the Safari Park we discussed earlier?

    Also there's not none - Living Desert has Striped, and Monterey Zoo and America's Teaching Zoo both have Spotted. Though another 5 or 6 years and it might be close to none.
     
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  15. JVM

    JVM Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    Most senior zoochatters are pretty specific on limiting the term rarity to animals with as few holders as possible. Hyena has been a subject of this kind of discussion more than many animals. As long as you avoid words like 'rare' or 'rarity' and focus on your excitement to see one, it'll be fine.

    I'd love to be excited about this, although I can already envision the discourse. I personally love when undervisited and underappreciated facilities are mentioned and highlighted, and it adds to the conversation to have new things to see and discuss than the same handful of great exhibits that come up regularly.

    It's worth mentioning maybe that San Diego's reputation has taken more than a few hits in the last few years -- Elephant Odyessy is famously controversial on zoochat, the zoo's once massive hoofstock collection has declined partly as a result, and numerous rarities have left or moved off-display. It's not uncommon for users to voice the opinion the zoo has become overrated. I think a lot of this is because San Diego's reputation was tied more its breadth of total collection than its exhibit quality, and those two factors are at almost constant odds in zoos with long histories like this... furthermore, the peak of San Diego's reputation was the 1990s and 2000s, and there's been a lot of changes since then, again such as Elephant Odyessy, and at this point some of those 90s developments have lost species or while innovative for the time have seen been imitated or otherwise. I believe the underwater hippo viewing, for example, was relatively unique back in the day, but now is more commonplace, and the congo buffalo have left the zoo.
     
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  16. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    I have been a regular visitor to the San Diego zoos since 1997 and I don't think that any hyena species has been exhibited at either park in that time period. I could be mistaken given the size of the collections, but I know that there has never been any on exhibit at the Safari Park in that time.
     
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  17. Aardwolf

    Aardwolf Well-Known Member

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    I saw striped hyena when I first visited San Diego in 2000, it was the first time I ever saw the species. It was on exhibit in Dog and Cat Canyon
     
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  18. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member 15+ year member Premium Member

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    The Zoo had hyenas for many years but not the Safari Park. There were a few hyenas there (in 3 exhibits!) when I visited San Diego Zoo in 2008 and there are several images in the ZooChat gallery already.

    Here is a photo of a Striped Hyena exhibit at San Diego Zoo in 2008:

    [​IMG]

    Here is a photo of a Spotted Hyena exhibit (1st grotto) at San Diego Zoo in 2008:

    [​IMG]

    Here is a photo of another Spotted Hyena exhibit (2nd grotto) at San Diego Zoo in 2008:

    [​IMG]

    Spotted Hyena in 2008:

    [​IMG]

    Here is a photo of a Striped Hyena exhibit at San Diego Zoo in 2011:

    [​IMG]

    Here is a photo of a Spotted Hyena exhibit at San Diego Zoo in 2011:

    [​IMG]

    Here is a photo of a Spotted Hyena exhibit at San Diego Zoo in 2013:

    [​IMG]

    @geomorph

    Here is a photo of a Striped Hyena exhibit at San Diego Zoo in 2013:

    [​IMG]

    @geomorph

    After November 2013, there are no more photos of hyenas at San Diego Zoo in the ZooChat gallery. I suppose that they've been gone from the collection for about a decade.
     
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  19. BenFoxster

    BenFoxster Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for digging all this out, you put a lot of effort into looking through the gallery!
     
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  20. BenFoxster

    BenFoxster Well-Known Member

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    Ok thanks for the advice, admittedly I myself was not too fond of Elephant Odyssey, as I get the message they're trying to bring across, but I feel it would be more effective to focus on the future of animal conservation rather than dwindle on past extinct species. I always prefer it when animals are organized by their geographical location, as it educates guests on what animals live where, animals they share their habitat with, etc. So recreating Elephant Odyssey with an African theme (elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, etc.) while putting the southern forest dwellers like the capybara, tapirs, and guanacos in one of the jungle areas, and the North American hoofstock and camels down by the Australian animals would have been my choice. Even then, many of the animals in general were off display on my visit, like the jaguar, pronghorns, as well as animals from other sections like African Rock's ibexes, fossas, the giant anteater, and puma were all animals off exhibit on my trip, so seeing such an overwhelming lot of animals missing on my trip disappointed me.