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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Be Amazed at Fresno Chaffee Zoo

May 27, 2016 03:02PM ● By Kimberly Horg

The Wildlife

June 2016
By Kimberly Horg
Photo: Amber Smith

Unwanted pets were donated and housed in makeshift cages sometime after the turn of the 19th century in a small central valley community. In the early 1920s, an amphitheater was built, bringing more people and animals to Fresno’s zoo. Shortly thereafter, bears, local cat species, hoof stock and birds of all types were housed in log cabin exhibits for all to see.  

Because the early history of Fresno Chaffee Zoo is vague, it is hard to say exactly when the zoo became a local attraction, but the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums officially recognizes that the Roeding Park Zoo opened in 1929.

Many  transformations  have taken place over the years, but one important factor remains the same – Fresno Chaffee Zoo continues to be a soft spot for area residents. The newest African Adventure was completely funded by Measure Z, a one-tenth of one percent sales tax in Fresno County.

“We are forever grateful for the community’s wonderful support of Fresno Chaffee Zoo. None of the exhibits or new projects would be possible without their continued support,” Ciara Norton, Fresno Chaffee Zoo marketing manager, says.

Construction on the 13-acre African Adventure broke ground in January 2014 and the exhibit opened to the public on October 15, 2015. The African Adventure is a multiphase expansion featuring new animal species in natural habitat exhibits. 

Visitors can look across what resembles the African plains and savannas to witness lions roaming, a herd of African elephants, cheetahs, white rhinos and a brand-new giraffe feeding area equipped with a 360-degree view.

Norton says the African exhibits provide opportunities for cultural discovery, interactive play areas and engaging live interpretation for all ages. 

“The reaction from the public has been outstanding,” she says. “We’ve seen attendance increase in just about every area of the zoo. Visitors are constantly amazed at the new exhibit, and it gives them something to be proud of since it couldn’t have been built without their support.” 

The Sea Lion Cove was the first exhibit built from Measure Z funds a couple of years ago. When deciding what exhibit to bring next, an African-themed exhibit made sense because it brought the opportunity to reintroduce lions who once roamed the grounds, as well as other large species. 

The Adventure brings many new species (large and small) including African elephants, cheetahs, meerkats and wildebeest. More than 25 animals in the new exhibit come from all over the United States. The male African elephant came from San Diego Zoo, while the male lion hails from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. 

More exhibits are in the works. The next new exhibit will be a remodel and expansion of the Malayan tiger exhibit. In 2014, four Malayan tiger cubs were born at the zoo, which helped in the conservation of tigers. A larger home will further help the species. Phase two of African Adventure will feature hippos and African crocodiles in a river-like setting. 

Norton says the zoo will always strive to be affordable for local residents, and it is starting to see more visitors from out of the area. 

“I overheard people talking about how they had traveled from across the Valley to visit, and they were so impressed that they plan to come back with more family members. I definitely see the expansion as being a great thing for this town,” Chaffee Zoo member and Fresno resident Bobbie Langley says.

African Adventure also brings an educational and fun destination to the Valley, Norton says. 

“Its expansion allows the residents of Fresno County and travelers to spend even more time exploring and learning all about nature and the animals that inhabit it,” she says. 

Guests can take a break and watch the animals at one of the two dining options at the Zoo: the Kopje Lodge and Safari Café. The Lodge is a bistro-style restaurant featuring hamburgers, chicken strip baskets, gourmet mac n’ cheese, a daily soup, artisan sandwiches and a pizza oven. It will soon serve beer and wine. 

“We love the new exhibit because it is such an incredible improvement for the zoo. The animals seem genuinely happy and it allows kids to feel close to the animals. And sitting on the patio of the new snack bar, looking out toward the rhinos is an amazing, peaceful feeling,” Langley says. 

Fresno Chaffee Zoo

894 W. Belmont, Fresno

(559) 498-5910

Normal daily hours 9am-6pm 

(varies by season) 

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