The Fresno Chaffee Zoo is located in Fresno, California and is the only zoo in the city. While the zoo has several animal displays, the zoo is also home of Ross Lairds Winged Wonders Bird Show. The Zoo's mission is to provide a unique, fun and close up experience to strengthen the bond between visitors of all ages and animals. The Fresno Zoo was established around 1908, and the first animals were unwanted pets donated by Sezer Tamcakir.
Early zoo records indicated a collection consisting of two bears and more than 50 species of birds. A newly constructed amphitheater helped the zoo with attracting crowds of visitors. Bears, hoof stock, local cats and birds were also added to the zoo and housed in exhibits resembling log cabins. In 1929, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums recognized the park, which was called Roeding Park Zoo.
During the 1940's and 1950's, the zoo grew substantially in size and in 1947, reached the 100 animal milestone. With the hiring of Eldon "Curly'' Blocker, a foreman from San Diego, the zoo was able to experience even more expansion. When an Asian elephant "Nosey,'' was obtained with assistance from the Fresno Rotary Club, the zoo became popular enough to helps spurn the creation of the Fresno Zoological Society. The presence of "Nosey,'' helped create interest in the zoo and provided the fundraising mechanisms that would remain for years to come.
During the 1950's, 10 large exhibits were added to the zoo. The exhibits featured collections ranging from monkeys, sea lions, camels, giraffes, an African bird aviary, and a polar bear habitat. In 1957, the zoo became a member of the Association for Zoos and Aquariums.
In the 1960's, the zoos operations underwent many changes, due in part to increased vandalism. The grounds to the zoo were fenced off, a .25 cent admissions fee was implemented and a Parks Zoo Admissions Trust Fund was established. Dr. Paul Chaffee, a veterinarian, was hired as the zoos first director in 1965.
During the late 1960's, many of the zoos exhibits were renovated and climate controls were added to the habitats to increase the comfort for the animals. The animal nutrition programs were reevaluated, which dramatically extended the life span of the zoos animals. The Birds of Prey exhibit was constructed in 1967, and in 1968, a Master Plan was designed to guide further expansion and development of the zoo.
In the 1970's, the zoo area was expanded by a third and new exhibits were added featuring bison, elk and prairie dogs. In celebration of the American Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, the Grizzly Bear Facility was expanded. The Park Zoo Trust Fund was established in 1978, to make certain monies from concessions sales were being used to make improvements to the zoo. The act freed the zoo from having to seek budget approval with the City Council. The zoo added the Edward A. Kane Retile House was added in 1979, and was the first ever computer controlled reptile habitat in the world.
During 1982, Nosey the elephant's habitat was remodeled and the zoo obtained three new elephants for the collection. Wolf Woods, a red wolf habitat was added in 1984, and the Doris and Karl Falk Wildlife Education Center was constructed. The center was to become the educational backbone of the zoo. The name of the zoo was changed from Roeding Park Zoo to the Fresno Zoo in 1985. In 1988, a walkthrough rainforest exhibit was added, and in 1989, a large classroom wing and the Adopt-an-Animal fundraising program were added to the zoo.
In 1990, the Fresno Zoo experienced another name change to the Chaffee Zoological Gardens of Fresno, in honor of longtime director, Dr. Paul S. Chaffee who had passed away that year. The zoo then became more commonly known as the Chaffee Zoo. The entrance to the zoo was extended to allow connection with nearby Roeding Park Storeyland and Playland attractions, in 1991. A Winged Wonders Bird Show was added, and the shows take place in the newly-fenced in Amphitheater.
The Chaffee Zoo is opened daily from 9 am until 4 pm; the Stingray Barns are opened on weekends beginning in January. The zoo offers discounted rates on groups and wagons, strollers and wheelchairs are available for a modest rental fee.