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The history of the San Francisco Zoo dates back from 1889 when a California grizzly bear was held captive as proof of its existence. Monarch, as they call the bear, was captured in the highlands of San Gabriel Mountains of Ventura County. His captivity was celebrated and became an inspiration to build a zoo to house what has become California?s symbolic icon. Monarch lived for 20 years and although was the inspiration for the creation of the San Francisco Zoo, he was not able to set foot here. Monarch died in 1911 but the San Francisco Zoo was complete in 1929.

Inspired by Monarch, Herbert Fleishhacker had in mind creating a zoo that would exhibit lions, tigers, great apes and ? his particular fancy ? elephants. He wanted to start this at the Golden Gate Park, however, the then Superintendent of the park, John McLaren did not agree with the idea. This did not stop Fleishhacker in finding an ideal place to put up a zoological garden. Soon after, he found an ideal place, a 30-acre site near the ocean in the southwestern corner of San Francisco. He acquired the property and converted it first to a recreational area. By 1925 it featured the Fleishhacker Pool - the largest swimming pool in the United States. Fleishhacker was not able to establish the zoo until he met George Bistany, an animal collector and hunter, who he hired to be his zoo?s first director. Bistany applied his considerable knowledge of animal husbandry and made Fleishhacker?s dream a reality.

The Herbert Fleishhacker Zoo came to existence, named after its founder who suggested naming it San Francisco Zoo. This was adopted on February 27, 1941. The first few animal occupants of the San Francisco Zoo came from Golden Gate Park including three elephants named Babe, Marjorie and Virginia, two spider monkeys, five rhesus monkeys, one cape buffalo and a couple of zebras.

San Francisco Zoo?s pioneering exhibits that came about in the 1930s amounted to $3.5 million dollars. Guests were treated to a close encounter with the primates with Monkey Island, came face to face with the king of the jungle with the Lion House, interacted with some of the largest animals in the planet via Elephant House, marveled at other mammals kept in a grotto, got up close and personal with the rulers of the sky with an aviary and watched the playful bears also kept in several grottos. These expansive enclosures surrounded by a moat were some of the first animal exhibits without bars in the United States. Another elephant was added to the zoo which was donated by a local San Francisco publication. Numerous children donated pennies to the publication to complete the purchase of the said elephant. Fittingly, the elephant was named ?Penny? to allude to the magnanimous financial support it got from the children of San Francisco.
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