August 6, 2009
The Fresno Chaffee Zoo at 894 W. Belmont Ave., is home to a variety of exotic animals that you can visit 364 days of the year. Over the past decade or so, the zoo has gone through some remarkable changes and must change even more to stay current and to keep up best practices for the health and welfare of its residents and visitors. Since 1907, Fresno has hosted a zoo in some fashion, although it is unclear what the original facilities were like. Prior to 1947, official records to reliably document the development of the zoo are lacking. However, we do know that in 1929 the Roeding Park Zoo opened and was recognized by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. Today, the organization is known as the AZA, and Chaffee Zoo continues to be recognized and accredited.
Originally, animals that had been pets prior to being donated to the zoo made up the bulk of the exhibits. By 1947, the zoo had grown considerably and built several grotto-style exhibits for the growing number of exotic animals including bears and large apes. There was also a “cat barn” for large cats, such as tigers and lions. The Monkey Island was built so that the monkeys could go inside the structure when desired, and with a moat to prevent the escape of monkeys. Today, you will find lemurs scampering about the island.
Nosey the Elephant came to Fresno in 1949 as the result of fundraising by the Rotary Club and coins collected by school children. For many years, Nosey was a star, but housed in a rather confined area for such a large animal. Thanks to great efforts on many levels by many people, the elephant exhibit is a very comfortable place for the animals who live there now. As various exhibits become obsolete, the zoo management is doing a great job of adjusting the types of animals housed at the zoo, taking into consideration right-sizing for the habitats. It is no longer correct to think that more animals equals a better zoo. We have been enlightened to know that fewer animals, living in the correct environment, will thrive.
I have assembled a group of links below that can help you to plan a day at the zoo. While you are there, look for docents--people who are volunteers who can tell you about the animals in the exhibits. Docents love what they are doing and can enhance your visit greatly. Also check out the zoo news link. There is a Q&A section, an article on what is new at the zoo, a calendar of events, and a focus piece about the tiger who had surgery. You will also be introduced to key animals and people throughout the zoo.