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Fleishhacker Zoo
December 23, 2013, 05:00 AM By Darold Fredricks

Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County History Museum
Herbert Fleishhacker.

Zoos may be the last refuge against a rising tide of extinction.” — National Geographic, October 2013.

The next time you visit the Fleishhacker Zoo, think about this: The idea about collecting and showing off animals, exotic and domestic, is not too old of a concept. The word “zoo” was first used for the Gardens and Menagerie of the Zoological Society of London in 1828 but zoos or “menageries” had been around for quite a few years. An excavation in Egypt in 2009 revealed a menagerie from around 3,500 B C. It included hippos, hartebeest, elephants, baboon and wildcats. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia, most of the Greek city states and Alexander the Great were collectors of exotic animals that were displayed. Most of these animals were confined in cages but, in 1907, the city of Hamburg became the first zoo to use open enclosures surrounded by moats rather than barred cages.

A sad chapter in the display of animals occurred in the Roman Arena in Rome where Caligula had 400 bears killed in a single day. In a single day at the dedication of the Colosseum by Titus, 5,000 animals perished. Lions, tigers, rhinoceroses, hippopotami, giraffes, bulls and stags were used to entertain the populace.

Because of the interest in the range of animals the world was found to have, the number of zoos now exceeds 1,000, with around 80 percent in cities.

The attitude of the public has changed considerably over the years and the presentation of the animals in the past is no longer public policy. The management of the zoos is in the process of displaying the animals in what is thought to be their natural habitat. No longer are they put in metal cages with no thought to their primal beings. The keepers now strive to have methods of making the habitats as close to their natural habitats as possible.

In San Francisco, Herbert Fleishhacker (1872-1957), American businessman, civic leader and philanthropist became elected to San Francisco Parks Commission in 1922. Having become very successful in the business world, he had achieved monetary success and wanted another challenge. In the early 1920s, he purchased 60 acres of land from the Spring Valley Water Company near the beach and proceeded to convince the board that a zoo and large swimming pool would be a perfect gift to the public of San Francisco. A collection of animals were scattered throughout the community and swimming pools were a thing to which only the rich had access. He set out to correct this.

While visiting Manila, Fleishhacker made the acquaintance of an animal broker named George Bistany. Fleishhacker realized the store of information and caring of animals would be a great plus if he could hire Bistany for his dream of starting a zoo. Bistany agreed to become the first directory of the zoo and he proceeded to plan acquiring exotic animals after a home for the animals was secured. By the time the zoo was opened on June 12, 1929, Bistany had transferred many animals that were in Golden Gate Park which included two zebras, one cape buffalo, five rhesus monkeys, two spider monkeys and three elephants. After eight years of service at the zoo, Bistany died and another director, Edmund Hiller, took over. The Great Depression was on and the federal government started a works program, called the WPA to stimulate jobs for those out of work. Immediately, the zoo was granted money to greatly improve the layout. Architect Lewis Hobart designed 10 new exhibits that transformed the zoo that attracted thousands more people. The Lion and Pachyderm Houses, Monkey Island, the Aviary, bear and lion grotto, lakes, fountains and a restaurant were completed by Oct. 6, 1940 and opened to the public for the first time. In later years, additional exhibits were completed, such as the Denzel Carousel, Southern Pacific Railways Engine 1294 and baby petting zoos. There was something for everybody now. If you couldn’t walk around the entire zoo, you could hop on the elephant train and take a 25-minute ride and get a lecture also about the animals. A 22-inch gauge Class E miniature steam locomotive, “little puffer” was purchased in 1925, restored and placed at the Herbert Fleishhacker Playfield. In 1976, a nature trail summer program was started using 12- to 14-year old volunteers who help spread the word about how the animals live and what their habitats and lifestyle are in nature. More than 250 active volunteers help keep the zoo going and many express desire to continue their life in some phase of conservation and animal care.

The main entrance off of Sloat Boulevard closed in 2002 and the main entrance is now located off of The Great Highway.

For a more complete story of Fleishhacker Zoo and Pool, there is a wonderful book available (full of photographs) at Barnes and Nobel by Arcadia Books (ISBM-10 0-7385-6915-4) written by Katherine Girlich.



Tags: animals, fleishhacker, bistany, their, great, about,

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