The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park is a 20-acre facility that preserves plants and animals native to Central America and South America. This zoo is owned and operated by the City of Santa Ana and, as per the requirement of the benefactor who donated those 20 acres, maintains an extensive collection of primates; there are more than 12 species here from all over the world.
The Santa Ana Zoo story starts in the early 1900s. A trader named J.E. Prentice moved to the area and began expanding his operations; over time Prentice grew a sizable fortune. In the 1940s he donated 12 acres to the city of Santa Ana, with a catch. In order to have the land the city was required to keep “at least 50 monkeys at all times” according to the Santa Ana Zoo official site.
The City of Santa Ana formed a park committee and accepted both the gift of land and the “monkey clause”.
When the park was being built, the arrival of the monkeys stirred up local interest. Over time a proper zoo began to take shape, a Zoological Society was created, and the area began to grow closer to what we know it for today. The zoo opened for business in 1952.
But in spite of the opening, it wasn’t all smooth sailing; the City of Santa Ana turned down a proposal to add an aviary to the park, so a private effort began including a group of volunteer builders to get the bird facility built. It would not be long before the aviary and a children’s zoo were added to the park.
Today the Santa Ana Zoo gets more than a quarter of a million visitors a year, and the zoo is operated by a combination of volunteers and paid staff.
Today, the facility shelters a number of animals in habitats throughout the 20-acre zoo. They include, but may not be limited to:
- Black lemur
- Greater bushbaby
- Golden-bellied mangabey
- Lion-tailed macaque
- Celebes crested macaque
- Lesser spot-nosed guenon
- Stump-tailed macaque
- Rhesus macaque
- Günther’s dik-dik
- Sika deer
- Collared peccary
- Rock hyrax,
- Mountain lion
- Swamp wallaby
There are many exhibits at the zoo, but like most zoo facilities, these weren’t added all at once. Over time the additions have included:
Colors of the Amazon Aviary: This is an impressively sized 9,000-square-foot aviary filled with plants and streams. Walking through it, you’ll discover South American birds in a rich, green habitat. In general, birds protected at the zoo include:
- Ocellated turkey
- Channel-billed toucan
- Chestnut-mandibled toucan
- Burrowing owl
- Red junglefowl
- Magpie goose
Amazon’s Edge: Added in 1993, Amazon’s Edge was intended as a recreation of the Amazon rainforest. There is a moat, a riverbank, and a cliff; this is a habitat for howler monkeys, swans, and other animals.
Conservation Education Theater: Established in 2004, this theater is near the Tropical Rainforest exhibit and is dedicated to “teaching the importance of preserving our natural world.” In the spirit of this, the stage for the theater was built using nearly eight thousand recycled plastic milk jugs. As part of the events scheduled at the theater, visitors can learn from “master recyclers” and weekend animal presentations.
Rainforest Exhibit: This is a smaller exhibit also representing life in the Amazon and features iguanas and saki monkeys.
Tierra De Las Pampas: A newer exhibit,Tierra de las Pampas means “Land of the Grasses” and stretches over two acres. This exhibit is a habitat for giant anteaters and greater rheas.
Ocelot Habitat and Education Center: This exhibit features a pair of Brazilian Ocelots who live in a pair of “linked habitats”. There are educational materials in this exhibit that explain the finer points of Ocelot life and survival.
Zoofari Express: This children’s train goes through the Crean Family Farm exhibit and into the northern zoo area for a short train ride (just over six minutes) over some 13 hundred feet of track. The trains were originally gas powered, but today are operated with electric motors instead.
Crean Family Farm: This exhibit is all about rare farm animals. There is a two-story barn here that is used to raise pigs and conduct classes.
Fifty Monkeys Ferris Wheel: The 64-foot wheel with fully-contained gondolas soars at the entrance to the family farm.
Conservation Carrousel: This exhibit teaches children about “the value of environmental conservation” through the preservation of endangered species, all while riding on a carousel. All participants get an “educational collector’s card” describing an endangered animal, and why it’s threatened. This carousel has a large lineup of endangered animals, including giant pandas, giraffes, cheetahs, zebras, tigers, otters, and much more.
Rainforest Adventure Maze: With twisting passages and dead ends this educational experience leads you through the layers of the rainforest with interactive learning stations and rainforest-themed questions where right answers lead you out of the maze.
Safari Playground: Rubber or sand cover the flooring of the two playground structures, for children ages 2-5 and 5-12, respectively.
Treetop Toys Gift Shop: Purchase unique souvenirs, a variety of plush animals, animal books, and zoo-related toys.
Bean Sprouts Cafe: A healthy cafe that offers a variety of choices including those with allergies and other dietary challenges.
Santa Ana Zoo Events: The Zoo has many events at the zoo including these annual events:
- Zoofari – An after hours fundraising gala at the Zoo
- Boo at the Zoo – A Halloween event
- Winter Wonderland at the Zoo – All December long at the Zoo
Coming Soon to the Santa Ana Zoo
The Santa Ana Zoo is currently undergoing $70 million in upgrades, new animals and attractions as part of a 20-year master plan. The first part of the plan is currently underway with a $6.6 million Giant River Otter exhibit called Amazon’s Edge and children’s splash pad next to the exhibit. The Zoo hopes to open the exhibit by the end of 2023 and will allow visitors to see the otters playing underwater while monkeys swing through the aerial trail system above.
There is a standing “do not feed the animals” policy here. Fully trained service animals may be permitted in the zoo, but untrained “comfort animals” are not. Bringing a service animal may require prior notice and permission–the fact that the zoo is an animal habitat may require extra consideration when bringing in animals not native to the exhibits.
All visitors under the age of 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Physical contact with any animal at the zoo is only permitted under official supervision by zoo staff.
Santa Ana Zoo prohibits the following items:
- Glass containers
- “Child-operated” wagons or carriages
- Bicycles of any kind
- Roller skates
- Baseball bats
The zoo is located at:
1801 East Chestnut Avenue, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Hours are daily from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M but the last admission happens at 4PM. The zoo is closed on the following holidays:
- Thanksgiving Day
- Christmas Day
- New Years Day
The Zoo is free for Santa Ana residents the third Sunday of every month.
Animal presentations are scheduled for weekends at noon and 2:30, locations and animals are based on availability at the time. Vehicle rentals at the zoo are offered to those who need strollers, wheelchairs, or electric scooters.
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Joe Wallace has been covering real estate, mortgage and financial topics since 1995. His work has appeared on ABC, The Pentagon Channel, Veteran.com plus a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.