THE CITY’S WILD SIDE

It’s all hap­pen­ing at the SF Zoo

Riverbank News - - 209 LIVING - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT

SAN FRANCISCO — The City of San Francisco has a wild side that is far from the birth­day place of the Sum­mer of Love in the HaightAs­bury Dis­trict, SoMa, or the Cas­tro Dis­trict.

Among the great at­tributes of hav­ing San Francisco in the 209’s back­yard is the San Francisco Zoo. Not only is it an easy day trip from here to the 100 acres where ev­ery­thing from an­te­lope to ze­bras roam but you can com­bine it with some time at ad­ja­cent Ocean Beach or the beaches at nearby Fort Fun­ston. It’s also an ex­cuse to pa­tron­ize one of the city’s 4,500 restau­rants.

The zoo is ar­guably San Francisco’s most over­looked at­trac­tion. Nes­tled along the Pa­cific Ocean in the south­west por­tion of the city is off the well-worn tourist tracks. That’s part of its charm as you can do a drive-by win­dow tour of the ad­ja­cent Sun­set Dis­trict that was once a tra­di­tional San Francisco work­ing class neigh­bor­hood.

While it isn’t the San Diego Zoo, over the past 40 years it has been trans­formed into a zoo that is more at­tuned to the more than 250 species that in­cludes over 2,000 ex­otic, en­dan­gered, and res­cued an­i­mals sur­rounded by an abun­dance of ma­jes­tic gar­dens filled with na­tive and for­eign plants.

My fa­vorite at­trac­tion hands down is the African Sa­vanna com­po­nent of the African Re­gion.

It al­lows the in­ter­min­gling of ze­bras, kudus, gi­raffes, and os­triches in a de­cent enough area that you al­most for­get you are in a city zoo. While it’s def­i­nitely not on scale with the 400acre Sa­fari West near Santa Rosa that costs $83 for an African Sa­fari and is worth ev­ery penny, the African Sa­vanna is spell-bind­ing com­pared to what is of­fered at other North­ern Cal­i­for­nia big city zoos in Sacramento and Oak­land.

You en­ter the three-acre ex­hibit via a cov­ered pas­sage­way where you will also find other African bird species such as the Marabou stork and crowned crane.

The in­ter­mix­ing of the species is amaz­ing. If you’re lucky you’ll see the ze­bras pass by in a full gal­lop — some­thing you re­ally wouldn’t

see in smaller spaces.

It is also de­signed to pro­vide you a view of how the an­i­mals are cared for — ac­tiv­i­ties that are typ­i­cally walled off from the pub­lic.

The African Re­gion also in­cludes the African Aviary that houses en­dan­gered species such as the Wal­drop, Ibis, and Hamerkop. There are also go­ril­las.

The In­sect Zoo is also a bit unique. The abil­ity to ex­am­ine spec­i­mens un­der microscopes adds a di­men­sion that goes be­yond just look­ing at things such as hiss­ing cock­roaches, scor­pi­ons, taran­tu­las, ter­mites and more be­hind glass en­clo­sures.

Kids tend to be fas­ci­nated with the In­sect Zoo. I’ll ad­mit it was a kind of a blah ex­pe­ri­ence for me un­til af­ter a few years ago dur­ing a visit to Death Val­ley where I had to rapidly move to stomp on one that had reared up and was charg­ing at me with its stinger. The per­son I was with asked me whether it was a scor­pion. I had replied no given it was too late in the year at the el­e­va­tion we were at.

As I started to bend down to get a closer look — it was around sun­set — the scor­pion made a hiss­ing noise, the friend jumped about five feet and my hik­ing boot came down so fast I al­most got whiplash.

The smart­phone photo I took of the scor­pion next to car keys that I showed a park ranger pro­vided the in­for­ma­tion that it was a medium sized scor­pion. I’ve been fas­ci­nated with scor­pi­ons ever since driven at first to get as much in­for­ma­tion about their habits so I could avoid a fu­ture en­counter.

The In­sect Zoo helps feed that fas­ci­na­tion.

Get­ting to the zoo from the 209 is fairly straight­for­ward. You take the Bay Bridge then fol­low 101 south to the 280 in­ter­change that you will take south to the West­lake Dis­trict where you exit on John Daly Boule­vard. Take a right on John Daly Boule­vard and con­tinue to High­way 35 (Sky­line Boule­vard). You will turn left at the Sky­line/ Great High­way junc­tion. Get into the right lane so you can make a right turn into the zoo en­trance off the Great High­way.

You pur­chase your park­ing ticket needed to exit at the ticket counter at the main gate prior to leav­ing the zoo. The cost is $10 on week­days and $12 on week­ends and hol­i­days.

Zoo hours in the spring and sum­mer are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The last ad­mis­sion is sold an hour be­fore clos­ing. Ad­mis­sion is $20 for ages 15 to 64, $17 for those 65 and older, and $14 for ages 4 to 14, and free for those 3 and un­der.

It takes an ef­fort not to learn and have fun while visit­ing the zoo.

There are sched­uled keeper talks daily. There are keep­sake zoo keys to use in talk­ing sto­ry­books through­out the zoo. There are impressive do­cents in uniform through­out the zoo that can an­swer your ques­tions and tell sto­ries about the var­i­ous ex­hibits and an­i­mals. There are bio-fact carts through­out the zoo filled with bio-facts of many dif­fer­ent an­i­mals al­low­ing you to see and touch fur, bones and teeth with well-versed do­cents and youth vol­un­teers to fill you in on the fas­ci­nat­ing phys­i­ol­ogy of the var­i­ous an­i­mals. And there are Wild Walks — guided tours of the zoo on week­ends at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Reg­is­tra­tion is re- quired.

There is also a chil­dren’s play area com­plete with a carousel and the Lit­tle Puf­fer minia­ture steam train.

There are three dining op­tions at the zoo — the Leap­ing Le­mur Café that of­fers grill-style items, pizza, sand­wiches, soup and salad; The Sta­tion Pizza Par­lor; and the Café Play­field with a kid friendly menu.

For more in­for­ma­tion, go to sf­zoo.org.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO ZOO

TOP PHOTO: One of the koalas at the San Francisco Zoo. PHOTOS NEXT TO 209: Scenes from the three-acre African Sa­vanna ex­hibit where multi-species such as gi­raffes, ze­bras, and os­triches in­ter­mix. ABOVE PHOTO: Lemurs keep an eye on zoo vis­i­tors. BOTTOM...

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