San-Diego Zoo

: 2/11

While riding around the Zoo grounds on his Arabian stallion, Wegeforth would map out in his mind the location of exhibits. Mesas would hold hoofed mammals, reptiles, and birds; the canyons would be reserved for bears and cats. In Johnny Appleseed fashion, he scattered and planted seeds for the new plants he desired. Roads that were laid out for the first bus tours are still used today.

To supplement the initial group of animals gathered from the Balboa Park Exposition, Wegeforth made collecting trips to other countries and other zoos, both here and abroad. His aggressive style of exchanging local animals, such as rattlesnakes and California sea lions, for more exotic species soon earned him the title of "Trader Wegeforth." Other animals were donated to the Zoo from private individuals or Navy ships that docked in San Diego and brought "gifts" to Dr. Harry's Zoo.

Through personal vision, determination, his own financial contributions, and those of others, Harry Wegeforth created the San Diego Zoo. To the uninformed observer of the time, it might have seemed that he realized his dream from almost nothing. Indeed, some of the early exhibits were built from castoffs and discards from other construction projects things that he could acquire for free4 much as he had built his play menageries as a child. He cajoled local wealthy citizens to help him by arousing their' concern for the animals and their city pride. One of his greatest benefactors was newspaper heiress Ellen Browning Scripps, who, by the time of her death, had donated some quarter of a million dollars to the project.

Wegeforth's concern about animal nutrition and health is additionally noteworthy. While not trained as a veterinarian, he nonetheless applied his medical knowledge to the care of Zoo animals and brought in others trained to assist him in this work. This care was reflected in the Zoo's low animal mortality figures.

One day a tiger, writhing in pain with what his keepers suspected to be intestinal problems, needed immediate treatment. As a result of his condition, they considered him too dangerous to rope and tie down for examination (this was an era before the tranquilizer dan gun). Wegeforth sized up the situation and entered the animal's enclosure with a handful of beneficial tablets. The animal crouched, made ready to leap, and opened his gaping jaws to unleash a ferocious roar. At that instant Wegeforth tossed several of the pills into his mouth. Surprised at this action, the tiger backed off momentarily, swallowing the medicine. Not one to back down, the tiger again gathered himself in a crouch, opened his cavernous mouth, and prepared to pounce. Once more Wegeforth administered the medicine, and this time the animal retired to his water basin to wash down the irritating pills. Such examples of Wegeforth's "make do" philosophy of animal medicine made for popular conversation among early Zoo employees.

In April of 1927, just over ten years after the Zoo's founding, he succeeded in opening the Zoological Hospital and Biological Research Institute, a major contribution to the further achievements of the San Diego Zoo. This facility was yet another gift from Miss Scripps.

The Zoo Lady

Also in 1927, the Zoological Society hired its first executive secretary, Mrs. Belle Benchley, an individual who would share Wegeforth's dream and assist him with his goals and plans. She had come to the organization as a bookkeeper in 1925, but soon proved so adept that Wegeforth began using her as his primary assistant. Among other things, he encouraged her to be the Zoo's public relations spokesperson, speaking at civic luncheonsa job she did reluctantly at first but soon mastered. Her work earned her high praise over the years, and following Wegeforth's death in 1941, she took over management of the Zoo.

It was in large part due to Mrs. Benchley that the San Diego Zoo began to achieve a national, even worldwide, prominence. Her books about life at the Zoo, published during the 1940s, made many new friends for the organization. They included My Life in a Man-made Jungle (1940), My Friends the Apes (1942), My Animal Babies (1945), and Shirley Visits the Zoo (1946). Mrs. Benchley's continued care and concern for the Zoo animals' welfare prompted one zoo expert to remark that the San Diego Zoo was "the only zoo in the world that is run for the animals."

: 21/12/2008