“Where am I, Africa?”, I thought to myself as I entered San Francisco Zoo’s Africa Region. Ahead of me was a sprawling, 3 acre, savanna with beautiful oryx grazing alongside zebra, duiker, zudu and even ostrich and crowned cranes. Standing guard, with hunched shoulders and permanent scowl, perched on a massive nest was the marabou stork. Then the graceful giants of the savanna strolled into view, giraffes and their cute babies. There’s nothing better to create a truly authentic natural experience than having an exhibit with multiple species as if you’re seeing them as they would be in their native environment. From natural settings to multi-species exhibits the San Francisco Zoo is also great for the various vantage points and viewing areas at many of their exhibits. Walking around and seemingly right through the middle of the African Savanna exhibit offers opportunities to escape the crowds, get closer or simply enjoy another angle.
This region also boasts an aviary that’s home to some brilliant birds that are sadly critically endangered like the hamerkop and the waldrapp ibis. Unlike many of the ibis species the waldrapp ibis is certainly not winning any beauty contests with its bald head but it is sadly one of the most endangered bird species with less than 500 left in the wild. The San Francisco Zoo has been successful in breeding them which is a great achievement for these birds. The hamerkop is the smallest of the stork species at two feet tall and has always been a favourite of mine. These amazing birds build massive nests that are so strong they can support an adult man.
Along the savanna paths, through the aviary you’ll enter the Gorilla Preserve, a fantastic exhibit that also has multiple viewpoints, and at almost an acre, this exhibit provides a natural home with full trees and rocky outcropping for the family of Western lowland gorillas to play. I fell in love with this gorilla family as it reminded me of my Toronto Zoo gorilla troop. Here I met O.J., the strapping silverback Dad, Hasani, the typical rambunkish teenage boy who just wanted to run around and play – TOO CUTE!, and a sweet little baby Kabibe who at approximately 9 months old was still enjoying riding around on Mom’s back.
It was hard to tear myself away from the cute baby gorilla with those soulful eyes and the teenage Hasani who ran, jumped and climbed all in the name of fun, but I had to move on to the Primate Discovery Center. The Primate Discovery Center is home to some amazing primate species, many endangered and found in outdoor and indoor exhibits with some housing multiple species. It’s here you’ll encounter the fantastic Lemur Forest exhibit; the largest outdoor lemur habitat in the US and home to black and white ruffed, ring-tailed, black and red ruffed lemurs. These amazing animals endemic to Madagascar are endangered because of the ongoing destruction of their native habitat due to deforestation and human development. But at the San Francisco Zoo they have their own paradise full of large trees to climb and jump from, roping to lounge in – which a few were quite enjoying and of course plenty of space to perform their yogi-like sun worshiper pose.
What else will you find? The Primate Discovery Center is a dual level building with indoor exhibits for species like Francois langurs, black howler monkeys and tamarins, and there are also outdoor yards, that you can see from above or ground level, that are home to mandrill, chimps and patas monkeys. It was here I met the zoo’s siamangs and was serenaded by their sweet song and graceful dance as they swung through the ropes and sang to each other.
From San Francisco Zoo’s African Savanna, where graceful beasts roam, to the Primate Discovery Center where lemurs lounge and siamangs sing, there was much to do and see and enjoy at the zoo and this was only the start to a great day.