Making the Connection
As the San Diego Zoo became increasingly involved in conservation efforts, especially through breeding programs for endangered species, education efforts grew as well. It was clear that conservation could not succeed without the understanding, care, and support of the public, and making connections between visitors and the animals could spark that moment of inspiration.
The Education Department had a long history of creating those experiences for the children that participated in Zoo classes and programs. There were also other, less formal ways to make those connections as well, including the animal shows the Zoo was developing that were gaining in popularity. Wegeforth Bowl had the Sea Lion Show and the Animal Chit-Chat Show, and in 1985, the Zoo added a new show area: the Hunte Amphitheater of Animal Behavior (above). Smaller than Wegeforth Bowl, it provided a closer experience for guests and a variety of opportunities for the animal training staff to introduce different animal species in a new show, Animals in Action.
Another way that visitors connected with animals was through talking with the keepers, and there were several keepers that were well known and sought out around the Zoo. One of them was Jim Joiner (left, with sloth bear cub Deva), who would introduce himself by saying, “Jim’s the name, bear’s the game.” He had been taking care of the bears for many years, knew them all as individuals, and would draw a crowd whenever he would stop for a few moments to tell a story about one of his charges. Many people came to know and love bears over the years by seeing them through his eyes.