San Antonio Zoo discovers 30-year-old time capsule during construction

Every department in the zoo contributed materials to the capsule in 1993.

By Sarah AschFebruary 6, 2024 10:52 am,

Why do we create time capsules? If you think about it, it’s a bit of a quirky human tradition, burying a box of items to be dug up by a future generation. 

The San Antonio Zoo gave us an opportunity to ponder some of these questions after a 30-year-old time capsule was rediscovered on the site. 

The time capsule dates back to January of 1993, and was found during construction of the zoo’s savannah habitat, which is undergoing an expansion. 

Cyle Perez, the director of public relations for the zoo, said zoo staff had more or less forgotten the time capsule was there. 

“Really, this was a collective experience that all of the departments seemed to have contributed to,” Perez said. “But really, it wasn’t until this expansion that we discovered this engraving on one of the fences in what used to be the Elephant Yard, but it will now be the expanded savannah habitat. And that gave us the clue, and seemed to jog some memories of what might be in there.”

The engraving was on an eight by eight plate — just the date, “1993.” Perez said the zoo facilities manager, Raul Valadez, worked with the elephants in the 1990s and was able to confirm there was a time capsule.

“It was in kind of like a PVC pipe, but a thicker one – I would say was about three feet long and maybe like a foot in circumference,” Perez said. “And so within that we could hear some things rattling around, but had no idea until we really opened it up to reveal what’s inside.”

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Inside the pipe, the zoo uncovered materials contributed by each department back in the day.

“You got to get a peek into what each department found important to really preserve and push through,” Perez said. “But some of the items that we found were from the nutrition center, animal diets from that time. We found things from the marketing department, like old Zoo News and magazines, calendars that we used to give out on a regular basis. We also found some general office correspondence that said ‘beware of the myth of the computer virus.’ Or we found newspaper clippings that had the Dallas Cowboys celebrating a championship.

And so it was really funny to see and reflect on all these different departments and what they chose to include. But a lot of fun, great things and a lot of ’90s graphics.”

Perez said it was interesting to see how the zoo’s mission has stayed more or less the same over the last 30 years.

“There was even a list of employees that worked here, donors, board members, and there are a lot of the same names that we see here today. We’re turning 110 years old pretty soon, but we have a very beautiful following of people who see our vision of securing a future for wildlife and support us for generations on end,” he said.

“Also how our unwavering commitment to conservation has just been present for so long. And again, we were built in 1914, but just a snapshot into 1993 we were still going strong and still doing our best to be the best zoo in the country.”

Perez said nobody remembered any additional time capsules once this first one was discovered, but he wouldn’t be surprised if another one pops up somewhere as the zoo continues to expand and update. 

“We are growing. We’re in our probably most monumental growth period that we’ve ever had in the history of our 110 years,” he said. “So there are plenty of projects that are coming up. We’re about to build one of the largest gorilla habitats in the nation, our expanded savannah, where you can stay overnight with these giraffes.”

And, Perez said, they haven’t ruled out replacing the time capsule to be opened again in the future. 

“It’s just another form of storytelling. We can’t wait to see what it looks like in 30 years from now, or 40, 50, 60 years,” he said. “The San Antonio Zoo’s here for a long time. So we are certainly considering recycling this and keeping the story alive.”

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