|Location||Fresno, California, USA|
|Land area||39 acres (16 ha)|
|Major exhibits||African Adventure, Roo Walkabout, Sea Lion Cove, Stingray Bay, Sunda Forest, Tropical Rain Forest, Valley Farm|
The Fresno Chaffee Zoo is a zoo in Roeding Park in Fresno, California covering 39 acres and housing over 190 species. Its attractions include Stingray Bay, Dino Dig, Valley Farm, Sea Lion Cove, African Adventure, and Ross Laird's Winged Wonders Bird Show. The zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). In 2016, the zoo had an attendance of 964,091 guests, a 19% increase over 2015, making it one of the most visited zoos in the United States.
The zoo was formed some time around 1908. The first animals were largely unwanted pets which had been donated by Sezer Tamcakir. The earliest zoo record describes a collection consisting of two bears and around fifty birds of various species. An amphitheater was built. Bears, local cats, hoof stock, and birds were added to the Zoo and housed in log cabin type exhibits. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) officially recognized the park opening in 1929 as the Roeding Park Zoo.
The zoo grew substantially in the 1940s and 1950s, with 100 animals and more birds by 1947. The zoo's first foreman, Eldon "Curly" Blocker, was hired from the San Diego Zoo. In 1949, the zoo's Asian elephant Nosey (a name determined by a citywide "Name-the-Elephant" Contest) was acquired, with help from the Fresno Rotary Club. Her arrival coincided with Fresno's "49ers Days Rodeo Parade", and Nosey's presence in that parade was popular enough to spawn the creation of the Fresno Zoological Society, which would create interest in the zoo and provide fundraising mechanisms for years to come.
In the 1950s, ten large exhibits were added to the zoo grounds with monkeys, sea lions, camels, giraffes, an African bird aviary, a flamingo habitat, and on-site feed and medical compounds. The zoo became an institutional member of the AZA in 1957.
In the 1960s, the park's grounds were fenced off in response to increased vandalism, a 25 cent admission fee was implemented, and a Parks Zoo Admissions Trust Fund was established to provide a link between the zoo and the Fresno City Council. In 1965 Dr. Paul S. Chaffee was hired as the zoo's first director. In the late 1960s, the animal exhibits were renovated, with climate control being added to increase the comfort of the animals. Nutritional programs were re-evaluated and improved, which extended the lifespans of the animals. In 1967, the large bird of prey exhibit was constructed, and in 1968, a master plan for future development was drafted.
The zoo's area expanded by a third, and new exhibits featuring bison, elk, and prairie dogs were added. In 1976, in honor of the American Bicentennial Celebration, the park's grizzly bear facility was expanded. In 1978, the Park Zoo Trust Fund (distinct from the Zoo Admissions Trust Fund) was established to make sure a portion of concession sales were used to improve the zoo. This freed the zoo from having to approve a budget with the City Council. In 1979, the zoo added the Edward A. Kane Reptile House, the world's first computer-controlled reptile habitat.
In 1982, Nosey the Elephant's habitat was renovated and three new elephants were brought in. A red wolf exhibit known as Wolf Woods was added in 1984, and the Doris and Karl Falk Wildlife Education Center was completed and became the backbone of the zoo's Educational Center. In 1985, the zoo's name changed from the Roeding Park Zoo to the Fresno Zoo. In 1988, the zoo's walk-through rainforest exhibit was added. 1989 saw the addition of a large classroom wing, and the implementation of the Adopt-an-Animal fundraising program.
Dr. Paul S. Chaffee, the zoo's director since 1965, died in 1990, and the Fresno Zoo was renamed the Chaffee Zoological Gardens of Fresno in his honor. The zoo became more commonly known as the Chaffee Zoo. In 1991, the zoo's entrance was extended to connect with the nearby Roeding Park Storyland and Playland attractions. The Winged Wonders Bird Show was added, with shows taking place in the newly fenced Amphitheater. In 1993, Nosey the elephant died at the age of 47.
In 2004, "Measure Z" was passed by the voters (73%) in Fresno to raise money to expand the zoo, and to improve the animal exhibits. The US$150 million project was contingent upon the submission and review of an environmental impact report. The name of the zoo was shortened to Fresno Chaffee Zoo in 2006.
In 2006, a 20-year master plan was approved by the zoo. This plan included expanding the zoo's size from 18 to 39 acres. The new space is intended to accommodate large animal exhibits, such as lions, breeding elephants, cheetahs, rhinos, meerkats, and other African animals.
In 2007, a traveling "Stingray Bay" exhibit visited and attracted large crowds. Several stingrays were bred while they were visiting Fresno. In 2009, a permanent Stingray Bay exhibit was opened, funded by Measure Z. In the rain forest exhibit, the former butterfly house (Maddis House) reopened as the Tropical Treasures exhibit in March 2009, with poison dart frogs and a sloth among other species.
In August 2012, a very large Sea Lion Cove, designed after the Central Coast's Point Lobos, was opened. It contains 250,000 gallon saltwater tank with rock outcrops and islands, while preserving the redwood trees that surround the enclosures. A 35-ft viewing glass allows guest to watch the sea lions underwater. This exhibit also includes pelicans. This was the first major exhibit funded by Measure Z. The old sea lion enclosure was repurposed for river otters.
In August 2013, a new King Cobra and Komodo Dragon exhibit opened. Added onto the reptile house, this was the first expansion of the circa 1970s building and was paid for by Measure Z. It contains replicas of the stone ruins of 12th century Angkor Wat, and four displays. The reptile house was also refurbished and several larger, multi-species exhibits were added.
In January 2014, ground was broken for the approximately 18-acre "African Adventure" expansion doubling the size of the zoo and including large animal exhibits such as lions, breeding elephants, cheetahs, rhinos, meerkats, hippos, gorillas, and penguins. Measure Z, which provided funding for capital zoo projects, was renewed by voters in November 2014.
On October 15, 2015, phase one of African Adventure opened to great fanfare. The 13 acre exhibit is home to over 100 animals including lions, African elephants, cheetahs, and rhinos. "The Kopje Lodge - the centerpiece of the African Adventure - offers free Wi-Fi, a cafe/restaurant with food options that includes brick oven pizza", and panoramic views of the savanna.
In early 2017, the zoo announced that it had set yet another attendance record in 2016, welcoming just shy of 1 million guests. At the same time, the zoo also announced that it was moving forward with multiple new and expanded exhibits. The largest of these will be phase two of African Adventure, including an African river exhibit that will feature an underwater hippo viewing area, river otters, and crocodiles. Also announced were a brand-new water play area for children, as well as an expansion to the "Sunda Forest" exhibit that will increase the size of the habitats and enhance the viewing areas for the Malayan tigers and sloth bears.
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