Photo: randychiu (Flickr)

The San Diego Zoo, among the most venerable zoological organizations anywhere, celebrates 100 years in 2016, and the calendar’s jampacked with events. Come stay at the Sofia Hotel (another historical fixture of the city) and pay tribute to a real San Diego treasure!

The Foundational Roar

It was on September 16 of 1916 that the seeds for the San Diego Zoo were planted. That’s when surgeon Dr. Harry Wegeforth heard the bellow of a lion while passing Balboa Park en route to his office. The big cat was one of the exotic beasts brought in for the 1915-1916 Panama California Exposition, the event that really created the Balboa Park we know today.

That lion’s roar proved propitious, because it immediately sparked an idea in Wegeforth’s brain: San Diego needed its own permanent zoo. Within a month he’d established the Zoological Society of San Diego, and shortly thereafter the San Diego Zoo was born—the motley assortment of “leftover” animals from the Exposition its initial charges. (Check out the Zoo’s fascinating timeline here.)

Innovative From the Start

The San Diego Zoo set a high standard for itself right off the bat. Taking its cue from groundbreaking open-air animal exhibits in Germany, the Zoo installed a cage-free, moat-edged enclosure for its bears (a polar bear, a black bear, and a brown bear named Caesar, who Wegeforth had adopted from the Navy).

And as the Zoo’s menagerie has ballooned over the years—today, it includes the better part of 4,000 animals representing hundreds of species—its mission has expanded into international conservation work. The San Diego Zoo’s world-famous for its role in the captive breeding of giant pandas. The pandas are essentially the celebrities of the Zoo, one of only four in the U.S. that display these endearing, black-and-white, bamboo-scarfing bears.

Other endangered denizens of the Zoo include the Amur leopard, the bonobo, the pygmy hippopotamus, and a Golden State native—the California condor. (You can read more about the Zoo’s first successfully hatched condor, Sisquoc, here.)

Join the Fun

The San Diego Zoo’s hundred-year fete is already kicking into full gear. Bring the whole family for the daily Centennial Celebration show at the Zoo’s Wegeforth Bowl, a multimedia extravaganza that’ll include irresistible characters such as Dr. Harry Lion, Matilda Koala, and Bamboo Panda and lots of participatory fun for kids.

And on May 14, there’ll be a big show of love for the Zoo—and a big thank-you to San Diego for its support—at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. The Centennial Community Event, sure to be an evening to remember, kicks off at 6 PM.

Meanwhile, you can get some fascinating perspective on the Zoo’s evolution at the San Diego History Center (also in Balboa Park), which opened a special exhibit, “The Lore Behind the Roar! 100 Years of the San Diego Zoo,” last month.

Maybe the best way to give a nod to the San Diego Zoo’s century-long story is simply to wander its grounds as so many generations have, marveling at the beauty and diversity of its globe-spanning beasties. The Sofia Hotel’s but a couple of miles from the Zoo’s gates, so make us your home base for the occasion!