Traveling the winding ranch road to Hearst Castle, guests once passed through fenced fields populated with many species of exotic wild animals freely roaming over the hillsides as though they were native to this land. It was an amazing sight, featuring an ever-changing collection of animals—like American bison, Rocky Mountain elk and zebras—deemed the largest private zoo in the country at the time. The zoo was divided into two separate areas, with one portion showcasing caged animals near the castle itself, and the other being a large enclosure that contained as many as 50 species of herbivores.
Guests to the castle were fascinated to find the cages contained black bears, grizzly bears, sun bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys, macaws, kinkajous, coati mundis, swans, storks, a tapir and an elephant.
The diversity of animals in the enclosure was notable, with white fallow deer being the most prolific species with a herd of more than 300. Other exotic animals included African and Asian antelope, two-humped and one-humped camels, sambar deer from India, red deer from Europe, axis deer from Asia, llamas, kangaroos, ostriches, emus, Barbary sheep, Alaskan big horned sheep, musk oxen and yaks, in addition to giraffes that were kept in a small pen located next to the road.
Though Hearst was forced to eliminate the zoo in the 1930s, the zebras remained on the property, along with Rocky Mountain elk, tahr goats, llamas, white fallow deer, zebras, Barbary sheep and sambar deer.
Today, a herd of more than 100 zebras can still be seen grazing on the Castle’s land from Highway 1. The animals are wild and allowed to roam the area, though they largely reside on the Hearst Castle property.