When Belle Benchley started as a bookkeeper in 1925, little did she know she would be running the Zoo in two years!
Dr. Charles Townsend brought the Zoo its first Galápagos tortoises in 1928.
several hundred pounds. One of these was Speed, Martin and also known as No. 5. He Osa Johnson gave the Zoo its lived a long life at the Zoo, first cheetah, a and when he passed away friendly fellow in 2015, he was estimated named Bong. to be 150 years old. Two animals that helped put the San Diego Zoo on the map arrived in 1931: gorillas Mbongo and Ngagi. They were brought to the Zoo by explorers and San Diego Zoo friends Martin and Osa Johnson, and were two of only a very few gorillas in zoos at the time. Little Other memorable animal residents was known about gorillas then, and also came to the Zoo during this period. scientists came from around the world One was a friendly Andean condor to observe their behavior. The two juvenamed Bum that liked to steal his nile males made national news and had keeper’s keys and untie his shoelaces. their pictures and stories printed in His keeper, Karl Ring, was a bit of a newspapers and magazines. They were character himself, and the two had a particular favorites of Belle Benchley, favorite game: Karl would lie down on who visited them nearly every day and the ground, and Bum would hop over wrote a series of articles about them to perch on his chest, wings spread. The for ZOONOOZ. Mbongo and Ngagi effect was a somewhat macabre portrait are still remembered at the Zoo today for visitors walking by, and caused not in the handsome bronze sculptures of a few gasps and exclamations. But that them on the front plaza. just appealed to Karl’s quirky sense of
humor. Then there was Bong the cheetah, who Martin and Osa Johnson had adopted as a sickly cub in Kenya. They brought him aboard ship back with them to New York, and they even took him for walks in Central Park. But they knew their apartment was no place for a cheetah, so they gave him to the San Diego Zoo in 1933, where he lived a long life. He even helped Belle Benchley with speaking engagements—acting as the Zoo’s first animal ambassador. Fortunately there was a Zoo for Bong to come to, because in 1932, the San Diego Zoo almost closed! The San Diego County Assessor, trying to obtain funds for the struggling city, announced that the San Diego Zoo owed more than $6,000 in back taxes on the property and holdings. But the Zoological Society leased the property SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL / SANDIEGOZOO.ORG / 21
It Bears Reapeating: Getting Reacquainted with the Ursidae Family