Bong, the San Diego Zoo’s first cheetah, arrived in 1933, a gift from adventurers and Zoo friends Martin and Osa Johnson.
  • 1930s
  • 1940s

Bong was a handsome and friendly cat, named after the Bong’om tribe of Kenya. Osa Johnson acquired him on her travels from a Kenyan farmer who had hand raised him. She and her husband Martin brought Bong back to New York with them and took care of him at their home. They even took him for walks in Central Park, which must have been quite a sight!

Friendly as he was, though, the Johnsons knew Bong wasn’t suited to being a housecat. They brought him along on one of their visits to San Diego and donated him to the San Diego Zoo. He lived at the Zoo for 11 years, and the Johnsons visited him whenever they were in town. Bong was so mild mannered and well behaved that he often accompanied Zoo director Belle Benchley on speaking engagements at local luncheons and education events—talk about making an impression! Thanks to Bong, the Zoo’s first cheetah was also its first community animal ambassador.

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