San Francisco has long been a model for progressive thought. From the hippies on Haight Street and their "peace-ins" of the '60s to the present tech-craze that is revolutionizing the entire world, San Franciscans constantly reinvent themselves. They don't just think outside the box - they've thrown the box to the side of the road altogether.
So it's no surprise that the San Francisco Zoo is on the cutting edge of its industry. Over the last few years, the zoo's management has been dedicated to installing a program to keep the wild in these wild animals.
Valentine Family Savanna at the San Francisco Zoo — Photo courtesy of May Woon / San Francisco Zoo
"Great care is taken to ensure the animals are well-adjusted and engaged," Abbie Tuller, Communications Director for the zoo, explained. "In fact, many of the animals even participate in their own healthcare, with gorillas trained to present their chest for cardiac ultrasounds, big cats trained to present their tail for blood samples, and a hippo who has a fun hose-down water pick treatment daily so vets can keep watch on his dental health."
And this care is not just for the sake of the animals; as the zoo's thoughtful and vast programming repeats over and over again, taking care of animals in a zoo is one of the best ways to learn about - and take care of - the remaining animals in the wild.
In fact, the Zoo's "wellness initiative," which focuses on both the physical and mental health of the animals, has a full-time leader in Vice President of Animal Wellness and Behavior, Dr. Jason Watters.
The heart of the zoo is the Valentine Family Savanna, which offers a multi-species landscape with giraffes, zebras, kudu, ostriches, storks and more.
San Francisco Zoo — Photo courtesy of May Woon / San Francisco Zoo
The entire zoo is organized into wildlife habitats. At Hearst Grizzly Gulch, visitors can get nose-to-nose with rescued grizzly sisters Kachina and Kiona. Lemurs leap through the Lipman Lemur Forest, the largest outdoor lemur habitat in the country. And Penguin Island is home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins outside of the wild.Penguin Island at San Francisco Zoo — Photo courtesy of May Woon / San Francisco Zoo
Although the zoo is actively researching and pursuing better ways to take care of wild animals, there's still a classic zoo highlight: feeding time. Many animals are fed in the morning and late afternoon, but be sure to check the board at the Main Gate for daily updates.
The most popular feeding times include the Penguin Feeding (10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.), when keepers hand-feed the Magellanic penguins on Penguin Island; the Grizzly Bear Feeding (11:30 a.m.), when Kachina and Kiona enjoy treats at Hearst Grizzly Gulch; and the Raptor Feeding (3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.), when visitors are encouraged to ask questions about the raptor's natural history and care.
Besides the popular feeding times, uniformed docents throughout the zoo are eager to answer questions, tell stories and share a wealth of information with visitors. Many have "Biofact Carts," which are loaded with the fur, bones and teeth of many animals.
However you spend your time at the San Francisco Zoo, it's impossible to leave without the feeling that the wild in these wild animals is worth not just understanding, but preserving. And that might be the best vacation souvenir of all.
Zoo volunteer with a furry friend — Photo courtesy of May Woon / San Francisco Zoo