Page 57 - SLO Visitors Guide Fall 2023
P. 57

Cambria, San Simeon, North Coast
Zebras on the Central Coast? Hearst Castle's unexpected savanna sight
 From private zoo to wild herd, Hearst Castle's zebra story
An unexpected sight often greets travelers along Highway 1 near the town of San Simeon - a herd of zebras. No, you haven’t been trans- ported to the African savannah; the herd is made up of the descendants of the former Hearst Castle private zoo.
Built in the early 20th century, the Hearst Garden of Comparative Zoology was the largest private
zoo at the time. Constructed as part of the estate between 1919 and 1947 by publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan, the estate featured a col- lection of caged animals and large enclosed spaces, providing habitats for animals including grizzly bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, orangutans, monkeys, an elephant, as well as the now iconic zebras.
In 1937, the
financial strug-
gles that Hearst
met during the
Great Depres-
sion forced the
dismantling of
the zoo. Many of
the zoo's animal
residents were
donated to pub-
lic zoos or sold
to commercial
in California,
Oregon, and
Washington. However, the zebras' story took a different turn.
The zebras remained confined within their enclosures until a win- ter storm hit, toppling the fences that once kept them captive. Seizing their newfound freedom, the zebras ventured forth into the vast 77,000- acre expanse of the Hearst Ranch. The animals adapted and flourished in their new environment, increas- ing in population.
Fast forward to the present
day, and an estimated 126 zebras now roam freely across the coastal grasslands. The zebras now graze alongside Hearst Ranch Beef cattle, a grass-fed cattle operation that has been managed by the Hearst Ranches since 1865. While the cattle are maintained by Heart Ranch Beef and the land is man- aged by Hearst’s Agricultural
Operations, the zebras are now considered completely wild, mean- ing there is no entity manag- ing, feeding or tracking the herd.
As they continue to
thrive in the Hearst Ranch, these resilient
creatures serve as a reminder of the enduring power of nature to reclaim its space.
How to catch sight of the herd
For visitors to Hearst Castle, the journey up the winding road now offers more than just a glimpse of opulence and history.
While a zebra spotting is likely during a visit to the ranch from
the roads, there is no guarantee that visitors will see the wild herd. A savvy traveler would be wise to bring binoculars for a closer look.
Visitors are reminded not to try to approach the animals or trespass
on the Hearst Ranch land. The herd is said to mostly roam from the northernmost point of the Hearst Castle Visitor Center to San Simeon Creek Road to the south and is often spotted on the east side of Highway 1, looking towards Hearst Castle.
A glimpse of the zebra herd makes for a memorable addition to a trip to the castle or the quaint nearby town of San Simeon.
Hearst Castle is open daily at 9 a.m. There are a number of different tours that visitors can choose from. For more information about a visit to Hearst Castle visit its website at or call
1 (800) 444-4445.
— Skye Pratt
    Cambria’s Premier Nursery
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