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WCS's jewel-like zoo in Manhattan has existed only since 1988 - yet its full history stretches back to the last century. The evolution of this city landmark launched the modern trend in urban zoos around the nation: the transformation of cages and menagerie-style zoos into natural habitat exhibits that educate, involve, and connect people to our natural world.

Since the 1860's, animals could be found at Fifth Avenue and 64th Street in Central Park. At first, the collection was simply a growing group of donated animals - from 72 "white swans" to a black bear cub. In 1864, the State Legislature authorized the city Parks Commission to establish a zoo, and the more formal Central Park Menagerie was established. In 1934, then- Commissioner of Parks Robert Moses remodeled the Menagerie into the Central Park Zoo. A Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, this tiny "storybook" zoo set a standard for its time - but over the decades, became a woefully inadequate facility for its inhabitants.

In April of 1980, WCS signed an agreement with the City of New York to renovate and operate the zoo for the Department of Parks and Recreation. WCS animal and exhibit experts, and architects Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo and Associates, led the project. Demolition of most of the buildings began in the winter of 1983 and continued in 1984; construction began in the spring of 1985. On August 8, 1988, the new Central Park Zoo opened to record crowds and enthusiastic reviews. Today, this "newest, oldest" zoo attracts nearly 1 million visitors a year.

From a steamy rain forest to an icy Antarctic penguin habitat, the zoo leads visitors through tropic, temperate and polar regions to encounter fascinating animals - from tiny leafcutter ants to tremendous polar bears. The Tisch Children's Zoo, added in 1997, lets little animal lovers meet gentle creatures up close. Year-round education classes and innovative public programs - including the zoo's "Wildlife Theater" -- encourage all ages to learn more about our natural world, and become involved in its protection.

Through the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's (AZA) Species Survival Program, the zoo is actively involved in helping endangered species, including rare tamarin monkeys, Wyoming toads, thick-billed parrots, and red pandas.


The Prospect Park Zoo opened on October 5, 1993, becoming the fifth facility in Wildlife Conservation Society's unique network of wildlife parks in New York City.

Brooklyn's "new" zoo has a long history. First it was a menagerie, established in Prospect Park in the late 1800's. This collection of animals became the more formal Prospect Park Zoo on Flatbush Avenue that opened to the public on July 3, 1935. A Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, the zoo was part of a massive city-wide park improvement program led by then-Commissioner of Parks Robert Moses.

As was the case with the Central Park Zoo, time and increased knowledge about the needs of zoo animals eventually made the Prospect Park Zoo obsolete. Through a partnership forged in the early 1980's with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, WCS agreed to renovate and manage a new zoo in Prospect Park. (The Central Park Zoo and Queens Zoo are the other two "city zoos" operated by WCS through this public/private partnership.)

Groundbreaking for the Prospect Park Zoo project occurred in August, 1989, beginning the $37 million renovation of the badly deteriorated zoo. Some architectural aspects of the old zoo were saved, but inhumane conditions that existed there were eliminated. Naturalistic habitat exhibits replaced bars, cages, and pits. And three major exhibit areas were designed to engage children, especially, in learning about wildlife: The World of Animals, Animal Lifestyles, and Animals in Our Lives. These approaches to wildlife education are based on WIZE (Wildlife Inquiry through Zoo Education), the nationally-acclaimed education programs developed by Bronx Zoo educators.

In the World of Animals, youngsters can meet prairie dogs nose-to-nose, and walk among wallabies. The Animal Lifestyles building's centerpiece is a spectacular habitat for hamadryas baboons. Animals in Our Lives exhibits encourage children to observe and draw wildlife; outside, visitors can interact with friendly, touchable species in an inviting barnyard. The Prospect Park Zoo's education department offers year-round classes and programs, too, for school groups and the general public. 


The Queens Zoo, a tribute to American animals, opened to the public on June 25, 1992. It was the second of three "city zoos" to be renovated and operated by Wildlife Conservation Society, through a partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Unlike the much older Central Park and Prospect Park zoos (which were renovated and reopened by WCS in 1988 and 1993, respectively), the Queens Zoo had only existed since 1968. That year, the "Flushing Meadows Zoo" opened on the grounds of the 1964 World's Fair. However, advances in zoo technology and animal management rapidly left the zoo in need of an update. The new zoo is the result of a $16 million reconstruction.

Exhibit updates have given the Queens Zoo the feel of a national park - albeit a small one. The zoo perimeter is a pathway that leads visitors to pockets of wild habitats, from the Great Plains to the rocky California coast to a Northeast forest. At home in these naturalistic settings are spectacular American species: American bison, mountain lions, California sea lions, American bald eagles, Roosevelt elk, and more. South America is represented as well; the Queens Zoo is also the only New York home to spectacled bears, endangered natives of the Andes Mountains.

Of special note are both the structures and inhabitants. The aviary is in fact a geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller and used in the 1964 World's Fair in Queens. And the zoo's animal residents include "Otis," the famous coyote rescued in Manhattan's Central Park in 1999.


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