The Oldest Zoos in the United States

Sumatran Orangutan at the Philadelphia Zoo.
Sumatran Orangutan at the Philadelphia Zoo.

A zoo also known as a zoological park or zoological garden is a facility where predominately rare or endangered animal species are kept within enclosures and displayed to the public. The animals may also breed and adapt to their new environments. Most zoological gardens are not only opened for public viewings and educational purposes but also for scientific studies. More than 180 million people visit the zoos every year in the US alone. There are different types of zoos including the Safari park, aquaria, roadside zoos, petting zoos, and animal theme parks. In the US, any facility that is identified as a zoo or public animal exhibit must be inspected and licensed. In addition, North American zoos have the choice to pursue membership for the accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The following is an overview of zoos within the United States that have been operating the longest.

The Oldest Zoos In The United States

Museum of Science

The Museum of Science is situated in Science Park in Boston, Massachusetts, and has over 700 interactive exhibits featuring a wide array of life presentations every day. The Museum of Science (MoS) is home to more than a 100 animal species many of whom have not only been rescued but also been rehabilitated from various threatening environments. The museum is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The Museum of Science originally began in 1830 as the Boston Society of Natural History. In 1862, following a series of temporary facilities the society decided to construct a facility in the Back Bay area of Boston and was dubbed '"New England Museum of Natural History".

Most of the scientific work done by the society revolved around geology and can be found online. Around 1900, children's rooms and a library were added to the museum which was later renamed the Museum of Science under a new director in 1939. Since 2013, the museum has been going through renovations in attempts to upgrade the physical structure of the building and develop new informative material. The Museum of Science is believed to be the oldest museum in the United States.

Philadelphia Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is believed to have been the first true zoo found in the United States. The Philadelphia Zoo was authorized on March 21, 1859, by Pennsylvania's Commonwealth, however due to the American Civil War the opening was delayed until July 1st, 1874. The zoo, whose admission price was 25 cents, opened with 1,000 animal species. The Philadelphia Zoo is one of the first zoos in the world known for breeding animals that had been deemed difficult to breed while in captivity. The zoo collaborates with various groups worldwide for the protection of animals and their natural habitat. At present the zoo covers an area of 17 hectares and is a habitat for more than 1,300 animal species many of which are either endangered or rare or both.

The main features of the zoo include a rain forest themed carousel, a children's zoo, a paddleboat lake, among other interactive and informative artifacts. On December 24th, 1995, there was a fire outbreak in the World of Primates killing 23 animals of endangered species which included ten lemurs, a family group of three orangutans, six lowland gorillas, and four white handed gibbons. All animals died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The zoo consists of the Rare Animal Conservation Centre, the Reptile, and Amphibian House, Small Mammal House, Carnivore Kingdom, African Plains among others.

Central Park Zoo

The Central Park Zoo, managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), is a 2.6 hectare zoo located in Central Park, New York City and is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Central Park Zoo was established in 1864, as a menagerie making it the third oldest zoo in the United States and the first official zoo opened in New York City. In 1934, the zoo was modified and new buildings erected a quadrangle around the sea lion pool. During this time, the zoo was commonly referred as the Robert Moses Zoo or the 1934 Zoo. The zoo was finally renovated between the mid and late 1980's and late reopened in 1988, featuring more naturalistic habitats. Some of the Central Park Zoo features include a polar bear pool, chilled penguin house, and an indoor rain forest among others. The zoo facilitates breeding programs for a number of endangered species such the thick-billed parrots, tamarin monkeys, red pandas, and the Wyoming toads. The zoo's rainforests are home to fruit bats and consists of a large area of free flight for the birds. Other features include the snow leopard exhibit which was opened in June 2009 and a children's zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is located in Lincoln Park in Chicago, Illinois. The zoo was founded in 1868 and is considered to be the fourth oldest zoo in North America. The zoo, which covers an area of 14 hectares, is one of the few zoos in United States where admission is free. Lincoln Park Zoo is also an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The zoo is home to a wide array of animal species including monkeys, polar bears, reptiles, gorillas, big cats, and other species bringing the estimated number of animals to approximately 1,100 animals. The burred oak tree is also found in Lincoln Park Zoo dating its existence to 1830 three years before the city was founded. The zoo features a number of exhibits including the Regenstein Birds of Prey, Helen Brach Primate House, Antelope and Zebra Area, Waterfowl Lagoon, Kovler Sea Lion Pool Regenstein Center for African Apes, Kovler Lion House, McCormick Bird House, and the Pritzker Family Children's Zoo among others.

Importance Of Zoos

The main objective for zoos is the conservation of endangered species together with education and research purposes. Entertainment for visitors in the form of tourism is a secondary objective for the establishment of zoos. Zoos also act as breeding facilities especially for endangered species making them a key component for the conservation of endangered species. Zoos are suitable habitats for wild birds such as herons and they also provide ample information about the animals living and being studied in the facilities.

The Oldest Zoos in the United States

RankZoo NameYear ConstructedLocationStatus (2017)
1Museum of Science1830Boston, MAOpen
2Philadelphia Zoo1859Philadelphia, PAOpen
3Central Park Zoo1864New York, NYOpen
4Lincoln Park Zoo1868Chicago, ILOpen
5Rogers William Park Zoo1872Providence, RIOpen
6Cincinnati, OH1873Cincinnati, OHOpen
7Buffalo Zoo1875Buffalo, NYOpen
8Maryland Zoo1876Baltimore, MDOpen
9Detroit Zoo1883Detroit, MIOpen
10Dallas Zoo1888Dallas, TXOpen
11Denver Zoo1896Denver, COOpen
12Bronx Zoo1899Bronx, NYOpen
13Toledo Zoo1900Toledo, OHOpen
14Memphis Zoo1906Memphis, TNOpen
15Kansas City Zoo1909Kansas City, MOOpen
16Franklin Park Zoo1912Boston, MAOpen
17Jackson Zoo1919Jackson, MSOpen
18Lake Superior Zoo1923Duluth, MNOpen
19Alexandria Zoological Park1926Alexandria, LAOpen

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