San Diego, CA–San Diego Zoo Safari Park celebrated the 50th anniversary of its opening Tuesday with a surprise gift to a guest at the wildlife park.
While festive music played and Safari Park team members and entertainers welcomed guests, an unsuspecting visitor, 10-year-old Ethan Kemerling, and his parents, Stacy and Eric, were greeted by Lisa Peterson, the Safari Park’s executive director. Peterson informed Ethan that he was the 50th guest to enter the Safari Park, and presented him with an oversized San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance lifetime membership card. This surprise gift allows Ethan, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, to have unlimited visits to the Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo, where he can explore and connect with wildlife for years to come.
“As we celebrate the Safari Park’s 50-year anniversary, it is my honor to welcome all of our guests today—and give special recognition to Ethan, our 50th guest entering the Park this morning,” said Peterson. “We have an amazing day planned for him and his parents. We believe an encounter with wildlife can transform a child’s dreams into a passion for changing the lives of endangered animals, and we hope this special day of memory-making moments does just that for Ethan.”
In addition to the lifetime membership for Ethan, the family—visiting the Safari Park for their first time—was taken on a VIP tour visiting the Safari Park’s expansive savanna habitats, where they saw herds of cape buffalo, antelope, gazelles, giraffes, exotic birds, and rhinos – the animal Ethan was most excited to see. They also made visits to presentation areas where they encountered wildlife up close—including a python, a serval, and a tamandua.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park (originally known as the Wild Animal Park) opened to the public on May 10, 1972, and was built to be the “Zoo of the Future.” This revolutionary approach forever changed what zoos could look like and what was possible in the fields of wildlife health and conservation.
Almost 3,000 visitors attended the grand opening in 1972. A monorail system took them into the Safari Park’s savanna habitats, offering a safe, up-close way to view a diverse array of wildlife—including some of the Safari Park’s first residents: six African elephants, sable antelope, greater kudu, and gemsbok, and a group of 18 southern white rhinos. The experience was like no other—and fifty years later, millions of guests continue to experience wildlife in this unique setting, making lifelong connections with species from around the world.
Today, the Safari Park’s 1,800 acres are home to vital conservation efforts, with more than 3,600 individual animals from more than 300 species, and a botanical collection of more than 1.75 million plants. The Safari Park welcomes more than 1 million guests each year, providing an ideal setting for visitors to connect with nature and wildlife while supporting San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation efforts worldwide.
Over the past five decades, the Safari Park has played a crucial role in the conservation of species ranging from California condors and hornbills to rhinos and elephants. With its diverse world-class habitats, including Tull Family Tiger Trail and Walkabout Australia, there is no other place like the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
“At the Safari Park, we bring people closer to wildlife than most people can imagine,” said Peterson. “At any moment, guests can experience something truly life-changing—and our hope is these life-changing moments instill a passion in each person to want to change the lives of endangered wildlife and their native habitats.
“The Park’s golden anniversary not only provides an opportunity to reflect on the last 50 years of impact created by the Safari Park but also is a time to look ahead and see what the future can be: a place where science and biotechnology work seamlessly with world-class wildlife care, along with empathy, hope and the desire for a world where all life thrives,” added Peterson. “Entering the second half-century, the outlook couldn’t be brighter.