South Texas Destinations: The San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, Texas

Remember the quarries in Brackenridge Park?  The ones that were put there, at least in part, to support the production of cement? We’re still there.

This area didn’t go immediately from empty land to quarry to park, though. For a period beginning in 1863, this area was a tannery. In 1863, Texas was part of the Confederacy, so the products of the tannery were used by the Confederate Army. This is why it’s generally referred to as the “Confederate Tannery.” I wish there were some photos from that era. It sounds like there was a quarry there, then a tannery, then maybe they did more quarrying, and then it became a park. There were cameras in 1863, so maybe someone took a picture of the tannery at some point, but if there is, I can’t find it.

The San Antonio Zoo actually began, from what I can tell, three times.  The first was a menagerie of sorts in San Pedro Springs Park.  From what I’ve read, there was also a menagerie at the Hot Wells Hotel (post to follow, perhaps not until the planned county park opens, if that happens in the next couple of years). George Washington Brackenridge actually established the zoo in the park, with bear, buffalo, deer, elk, lions, and monkeys. An article I read years ago, and that I cannot find now, said that the menagerie at the Hot Wells hotel (which consisted of a bear and some ostriches at the very least) was moved to Brackenridge Park once Brackenridge set up his zoo there.

Now the ex-husband and I have always been fond of zoos, and we heard good things about the San Antonio Zoo, so it was one of the first places we visited when we got here. We visited so early in our residence here, in fact, that we had no idea where we actually were going and we ended up going around the long way.

I love the zoo, but be warned.  A lot of the 750 species of animal at the zoo are birds.  I stopped and counted it up and it looks like around 25% of the species are birds. I’m not sure if that’s more or less than for most zoos, but it feels like more.  A lot more.  Of the good, the San Antonio Zoo is a player in the attempts to breed the Attwater’s prairie chicken and the whooping crane.

Actually, never mind.  I found on the San Antonio Zoo’s website where they state that they have “One of the largest bird collections in the country.” So that answers that question. Definitely bird-intensive.

Hixon Bird House, San Antonio Zoo
Let’s see if you can guess what animals live here. Yep. Birds. This is the Hixon Bird House.

In fact, that page on the website says “we participate in over 230 endangered species programs.” The prairie chicken and whooping crane are two. They used to breed snow leopards, as well.  I think there was something else in the snow leopard cage the last time I was there, though. I wonder what the other 228 species are . . . .

One of the relatively recent upgrades to the zoo, and one that has gotten a lot of positive press, is their “Africa Live” area.  This is an area that has a focus on, as it says on the label, animals of Africa. The entrance is an air-conditioned building that has primarily smaller animals, fish and reptiles and things of that nature.  There is also a viewing window for pygmy hippos. Beyond that building is an open area with more animals, including a new (as of 2015) feature where for $5 you can feed three lettuce leaves to a giraffe.

Speaking of interactive things (and also going back to the bird theme), the zoo also has Lory Landing, where you can feed nectar to lorikeets. The Rainbow Lories tend to be the friendliest, so of course, I always attempt to coax one of the more standoffish species onto my hand. What can I say? I’m a rebel.

On the negative side, the zoo gets some bad press for Lucky, our one remaining Asiatic elephant. And, as much as I love the zoo, I do feel bad for her when I see her all alone in her enclosure. But the zoo has a page detailing her care, including the fact that the USDA, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and “third party agencies” have examined her habitat and routine and said that it is, at the very least, adequate, and sometimes more than adequate.  She also has seven employees, including two full-time veterinarians, seeing to her physical and emotional health. The zoo has considered getting another elephant to be a companion for her, but they worry that, at the age of around 56, she is getting to the end of her life expectancy.  The stress of adjusting to another elephant might have negative consequences for her health. At the moment, there is a lawsuit seeking to send her to a sanctuary, but, again, she’s getting old and separating her from the only home she’s ever known and changing her routine may well also be bad for her health.  Personally, I don’t know why they would work as hard as they have to keep her (not to mention the expense of her staff!) unless they honestly believed, and were getting feedback from outside organizations they trust, that keeping her in her current situation is the best thing for her.

June 27, 2016:  Lucky now has a roommate.  You can read the update I posted here.

The zoo is open 365 days a year.  Whenever I tell anyone this, I point out that they have to send people in to take care of the animals anyway, why not have a few more employees there and make a few bucks? And San Antonians take advantage of the fact that the zoo is even open on Christmas. Christmas of 2015, Alex and I went to the zoo and there were no parking spaces available. We ended up going downtown instead.

Most of the paths at the zoo seem like they should be wheelchair accessible.  I think that the steep uphill path in the Rift Valley area at the back of the zoo might be a bit much for wheelchair users. I’ve also heard that some of the restrooms are difficult to access, but I seem to recall a restroom in the Africa Live building that didn’t have the sharp 90-degree turns of the restrooms in other areas of the zoo.

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