World War II

Just six months after Dr. Harry’s death came the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was announced to stunned visitors over the Zoo’s public announcement system.

Soon, the United States was at war.

At first, attendance at the Zoo decreased markedly. Because San Diego had a military base, people feared the city would be a target and were afraid to gather in crowds. The threat of possible air raids loomed, and Belle Benchley and the Zoo staff prepared emergency procedures to protect the Zoo and animals as much as possible. Fortunately, they never had to be implemented.

As the war continued, rationing affected supplies. The scarcity of gasoline suspended the Zoo bus tours. A photo from the Zoo showing Georgie the chimpanzee “weighing” his own rubber tire toy to turn it in for the scrap rubber drive was printed in newspapers throughout the nation. Along with many Americans, the Zoo started its own “Victory Gardens” to grow produce to feed the animals.

However, people eventually began to see the Zoo as a respite from their worries, a place to take the family to relax for a while, and attendance began to increase. The Zoo was also touted as a “wholesome” place for military personnel to visit while they were on leave—rather than the seedy parts of downtown. Officers brought groups of military personnel to the Zoo, boosting attendance, and word also spread to family and friends that the Zoo was a fun place to spend the day.


War Years 1937 - 1946
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