by Dot Cannon
Who knew a giraffe could dance to Dixieland jazz?
On Monday, the L.A. Zoo provided one that could–for their fiftieth birthday “ZooLAbration”!
Approaching the zoo gates, we noticed…
…people were wearing party hats.
November 28, 2016, marked fifty years since the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens opened its gates in Griffith Park. The party was on!
The zoo wouldn’t open until ten that morning. But we’ve never had more fun standing in line.
Topnotch musicians The Mudbug Brass Band struck up an uptempo Dixieland selection.
Talented stilt performers joined the festivities.
A “lion” juggled, as the giraffe and butterflies danced, up and down the line.
Meanwhile, the band demonstrated their expertise on songs like “Sweet Georgia Brown”.
Ticketed visitors were allowed to come inside Zoo grounds, amid cameras, music and anticipation.
Everyone was waiting…
Then, at ten, Los Angeles Zoo Director John Lewis stepped up. Welcoming the guests, he told everyone that when the zoo had opened, in 1966, staffers began the day by walking in some of the animals.
“As we open today, some of the animals from our Winnick Children’s Zoo are going to walk with us to the ZooLAbration stage, he said. “So I welcome you to come in, walk with the animals,…follow us up to the stage. We’ll do a couple of talking points and then share some cake.”
To the sound of cheers, laughter and jazz, everyone was off–following goats, exotic sheep and a dog which Zoo staffers were leading.
Once onstage, Lewis shared some of the milestones of the L.A. Zoo’s past fifty years.
“From the very beginning, this zoo’s been committed to conservation of wildlife, and connecting the wildlife with the people,” he said. The zoo is really about people, because without you all, we can’t make a difference for wildlife.”
Over the past five decades, the Los Angeles Zoo’s conservation efforts have brought numerous species back from the brink of extinction. Among them are the Arabian oryx, mountain yellow-legged frogs and Bongo antelope.
“We’ve been instrumental in saving species,” Lewis said. “You’ve probably heard a lot about the California condor project. (They were) down to twenty-two animals when this zoo and the San Diego Zoo got involved.”
Veterinary staff from both zoos became involved in caring for the condors, raising young and putting them back in the wild. Today, California has one hundred thirty-one California condors. The total population currently numbers more than four hundred, according to the California Condor Recovery Program page on the L.A. Zoo’s website.
“The technologies that we develop here, simply caring for the animals that live here, are now being used more and more by field biologists and researchers, to save animals in the field,” Lewis said.
“The other thing that I like about this zoo, and I think it’s very special–if you’ll just look at the people in this crowd. It looks like Los Angeles. And that’s critical for us…It’s critical that we engage all people at all times, so thank you so much for being here.”
Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero spoke next.
“I think the Zoo experience is something personal,” she said. “I remember coming here (on a field trip) from one of the LAUSD schools. But then I stopped coming. I reconnected to the Zoo when I became a mother. And I think as a mother, you realize the wonders and beauties of this special place that is called the Los Angeles Zoo.”
Romero referenced the ways the L.A. Zoo reflects the community’s commitment. “A lot of the new exhibits that you see here at the Zoo are not done with just city resources,” she explained. “A lot of the work that’s done is (accomplished) with the support of so many people, that care about providing an amazing zoo experience.”
Recently, Romero said, she herself had enjoyed such an experience. “Two weeks ago, I was here for the Zoo Lights with my staff. And it is a magical experience.”
Lewis told the audience that the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), which partners with the L.A. Zoo, had been instrumental in moving the Zoo to its current location in 1966. “They were the genesis that really pushed to get a new, modern zoo in the City of Los Angeles,” he said, introducing GLAZA president Connie Morgan.
“This zoo is so very wonderful, and it’s been our pleasure, for more than fifty years, to help in building it,” Morgan said. In fact, she told the audience, GLAZA had helped to assemble the Zoo’s first animal collection, fifty years ago.
“Today we are committed to helping to ensure that this zoo is self-supporting,” she continued. “It is your attendance here, your membership and donations, that make this zoo great. And we are so very grateful to you, for you really are the heart of this zoo.”
“This birthday party is just the beginning of a year of celebration, for the zoo’s fiftieth anniversary” Morgan continued. “To find out more about it, go to zoolabrate50.org. So now, it’s time to get this party started.”
Getting the party started involved an important part of what the zoo is all about–having fun. Lewis, Romero and Morgan led the guests in singing “Happy Birthday, Dear Zoo” as the Mudbug Brass Band provided a New Orleans-flavored musical accompaniment.
“Look, they’re cutting the cake,” a woman said.
And visitors started lining up for some amazing-looking devils-food cake, provided by local bakery Delicious Arts.
Guests also began writing birthday wishes on a giant card.
But birthday cake wasn’t just for the two-legged celebrants.
Throughout the day, the L.A. Zoo was providing cake, which their enrichment team had made, for the various residents. Black bears, gorilla and harbor seals would all receive “cake” made with the treats they could eat healthfully.
Billy the Asian elephant seemed to enjoy his “carrot cake”.
He even ate the cardboard!
The tiger received a “confection” made with meat.
And the tortoises’ “cake” was made with fruit. They looked interested–but were in no hurry about it.
Happy 50th Birthday, L.A. Zoo! May you have many, many more. (And we hope these tortoises enjoy your hundredth!)