Sequoia Park Zoo was founded in 1907 - the oldest zoo in California, and is owned and operated by the City of Eureka. Its beginnings were modest and typical of many zoos of its day: some native animals – elk, most likely, kept for various reasons and given to the city for the enjoyment of its citizens, who wished to create a metropolitan feel in the remote outpost of Northern California. A fence was erected to contain these animals inside the newly created city park, and a zoo was born. During the early part of the 20th century, animals were brought to the zoo in happenstance manner, a black bear orphaned from an Alaska hunting expedition, a wallaroo purchased on the docks in Sydney, Australia and shipped back to Eureka by a sea captain, etc. During this century, quite a mix of species found a home at Sequoia Park Zoo: baboons, African lions, camels, chimpanzees, tigers, polar bears, bison and other large hoofstock, exotic birds, and small mammals.
In the 1970s, city funding was waning for the Zoo but the community rallied with efforts to save and clean up the Zoo. Public feeding of the animals was finally prohibited by a City ordinance, and a perimeter fence was erected to protect the animals at night. In the late 1970s and early 1980s major renovation saw the creation of the bear grotto and primate exhibits. The euthanasia of two Black bears to make way for the grotto project was pivotal for the Zoo: instead of closing the Zoo as was suggested during the ensuing outcry, the City Council instead hired a professional zoo manager and a new era of modern zoo operation was begun. Accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) was obtained in 1995 and sustained since.
The most famous and celebrated zoo residents were two male chimpanzees abandoned by the entertainment industry: Bill and Ziggy. Bill was purchased as an adolescent with pennies from local schoolchildren from a traveling circus in 1956 and lived at the zoo for fifty years. In the early 1960s another male chimp called Ziggy was introduced as a companion for Bill. The two incompatible males lived adjacent to one another as the focal point of the zoo for many decades. Bill, an extroverted and exceptionally engaging chimpanzee, became a true icon of the zoo and the community, touching the lives of generations of Eurekans up to his death in 2007.
Another major renovation of the Zoo began in 2003 with the creation of a permanent children’s zoo called the Barnyard and later the Entry Pavilion which included an interpretive center of the native redwood ecosystem called Secrets of the Forest, as well as modern commissary, café, gift shop and education facilities. At this time the first comprehensive institutional animal collection plan was established, and a new facility master plan in 2006, both of which have guided development toward exhibits which share a specific ecological interpretive theme. In 2008 admission fees were implemented, creating significant funding revenue for the first time. The creation of the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation in 2003 has been instrumental in realizing the goals of the master plan and the Zoo’s modern mission.