Chile´s National Zoo still growing after 85 years of history

The birth of a baby giraffe, the arrival of a jaguar and a group of lemurs, and a new educational Nursing Center are among the attractions added this year to the Chilean capital´s top wildlife center.


The Chilean National Zoo in Santiago celebrated its 85th birthday this year in style, with new animals, an updated infrastructure and plans for some exciting projects in the near future.

Home to some 1,000 specimens of 158 different species, the Zoo is situated on the southwestern slopes of Cerro San Cristobal, the largest urban park in Chile.

Rare Bactrian Camels from Mongolia, hippopotamus from central Africa, tigers from India and polar bears from the arctic are among the foreign fauna living at the zoo. Condors, the Humboldt Penguins, Chilean flamingos and the elusive Pudu—the world’s smallest deer—are on view as well, representatives of Chile’s rich, indigenous wildlife.

In the past year new arrivals have made valuable additions to the zoo. A group of lemurs and a jaguar were added to the zoo’s population, as well as a baby giraffe born on the premises. In the coming months, a female camel and two meerkats are to become the newest additions.

Construction of a Nursing Center this year added to the zoo’s educational capacity, introducing visitors to the process of bringing new animals to the zoo. For next year plans have been laid down to build a new home for the zoo’s white tigers.

Founded in 1925, the National Zoo was the brainchild of Alberto Mackenna, then governor of the Metropolitan Region. At the time, the Zoo cost about US$125 (CP$60,000) for both construction and the purchase of around 70 animals from the zoo in Buenos Aires.

In its early years, the zoo became a favorite pastime for Santiago’s elite, drawing crowds in their Sunday best to see exotic species from distant regions of the world. In 1940 one of the zoo’s most famous residents, the elephant Fresia, arrived from Rio de Janeiro. Fresia would remain one of the zoo’s primary attractions until her death 51 years later in 1991.

Construction of malls and other more contemporary forms of recreation in the 1990s, as well as a series of mishaps in the first half of that decade, began a decline in the zoo’s popularity, which lasted until 2003 when the zoo drew in only 600,000 people in the entire year.

Since then, however, the zoo has seen a rapid upswing in popularity thanks to the arrival of new animals and improvement of infrastructure within the park. For 2010, zoo officials predict some 940,000 visits, more than a 50 percent increase in only seven years from the 2003 low point.