The San Antonio Zoologicial Gardens & Aquarium can trace its history back to the 1800s, but its real birth was in 1914, when Colonel George W. Breckinridge deeded a parcel of land to the city of San Antonio. That land that became the San Antonio Zoo housed a pair of lions, four bears, monkeys, elk, deer and buffalo.
In 1929, the San Antonio Zoo made history with two of the country's first cageless exhibits, the Barless Bear Terraces and the Primate Paradise. It was typical of the zoo, which has often been on the forefront in animal management and conservation. In 1948, the San Antonio Zoo added the Richard Friedrich Aquarium to its exhibits, becoming one of the few zoos in the world that featured both land animal exhibits and an aquatic environment. In 1966, the zoo opened the Hixon Bird House, an aviary housing tropical birds in a simulated rain forest setting which allowed them free flight. The San Antonio Zoo now houses one of the largest collections of birds in the world.
The Hixon Bird House is still the centerpiece of that bird collection. The building is home to many glass-fronted enclosures with wire mesh roofs open to the elements in order to simulate the natural environment as closely as possible. Each enclosure is a diorama that features an environment as close as possible to the bird's natural home. There are birds from Africa, North and South America and the jungles of Asia. Visitors have a chance to watch the famed roadrunner of the American Southwest, the fairy bluebird of Asia and the quetzal of the South American Rain Forest.
From the air to the sea - one of the most popular exhibits at the San Antonio Zoo is the Friedrich Aquarium. With 24 tanks of tropical fish, the Aquarium features such unusual specimens as the chocolate chip starfish, moon jellyfish and venomous lionfish. The Aquarium is also home to an alligator snapping turtle who is estimated to be 40-50 years old.
While many zoos feature animals from the Asian, South American and African rainforests, far fewer have displays devoted to the Australian rain forests. Visitors to the San Antonio Zoo can enjoy a stroll through Lory Landing, an Australian rain forest setting where lorikeets fly free. Lorikeets, small cousins to parrots, are gregarious and friendly birds that will happily perch and feed from a cup of nectar held by a guest. The antics and friendliness of the lorikeets make Lory Landing another of the most popular destinations at the zoo.
Amazonia and Africa Live! represent two very different continents in very memorable ways. Amazonia, located along the zoo's waterway, is home to 30 species of tropical animals and dozens of species of tropical plants. The highlights of the display include the pygmy marmoset, the smallest of the South American monkeys, and the jaguar and ocelot. Plants include many rare tropical plants that were confiscated from smugglers at the border. Africa Live! is an immersive, interactive exhibit that is a must-see for any visitor to the zoo. The exhibit focuses on the relationship of animal life and its adaptations to the availability of water. It features interpretive guides, interactive learning stations and the unique Nanyuki Market, a model of an actual street market in Africa.
The San Antonio Zoo is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 365 days a year. Admissions are nominal, and discounts are available for the military, senior citizens, groups and others. For more information on the San Antonio Zoo's admissions and scheduled events, contact the zoo at (210) 734-7184.
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