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Zoo History
Current Statistics
The Tulsa Zoo is owned by the City of Tulsa and is part of the Tulsa Parks Department. The zoo is located on 78 acres within Mohawk Park, which is the third largest municipal park in the United States. Currently, nearly 1,500 animals (436 species) are on exhibit, many of them rare and endangered. The Tulsa Zoo is accredited by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the American Association of Museums, with a goal of being an accredited Botanical Garden as well.

Nearly 600,000 visitors tour the zoo each year. That number includes approximately 80,000 school children.

The Tulsa Zoo and its Past
On May 26, 1927, Park Superintendent Will O. Doolittle presented a report to the Tulsa Park Board. "We have already begun plans for the development of 250 acres of Mohawk Park...for the creation of a prominent and adequate zoological garden and game preserve," he stated.

The first step involved securing private support and a zoological society was incorporated on October 18, 1927. The City then hired its first zoo director: M.E. Erwin was a young local who had shown an unusual interest in zoological work. The zoo opened with approximately 35 animals, including "Boxer," a brown bear; "Bozo," a black bear; and "Waco," a rhesus monkey. The care of these animals fell to a staff of 5 employees.

In 1929, Bird Hall and Museum opened to the public. Located in what is now the Children's Zoo, it was filled with reptiles and birds, including a Humboldt's penguin, which helped attract approximately 2000 visitors on weekends. The building was demolished in 1964.

Hugh Davis served as Zoo Director 1933-1966. Ray Sharpe was named Chief of the Zoo in 1966, Walter Kuenzli became Zoo Superintendent in 1968, David Zucconi served as Zoo Superintendent from 1969 to 1997, and Larry Nunley was appointed Zoo Director in January 1998. Most recently, Stephen Walker became Zoo Director in May 2005.

The Zoo's first entrance was located at what is now the administration and staff entrance. The next location, which is now Crane Depot and a concession stand, was built in 1935. It was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at a cost of $8,000, as part of a federal project. It was first utilized as a food service area, or refectory, until its transformation into an admissions booth in 1972. The Koi Pond, which was first designed to exhibit alligators, was built in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Until the Elephant Encounter - with its platform scales - opened in1995, weighing in was no easy matter. Oklahoma State Highway Patrol officers would arrive with portable truck scales and keepers would maneuver the elephants' feet onto each scale. At a count of "three," the scales would be locked down, thus recording the poundage on each scale. The total - calculated by a sometimes reluctant patrol officer - would hopefully equal an elephant's precise weight.

The first Asian elephant arrived on November 16, 1954. "Gunda," who was then four years old, has the distinction of being in residency longer than any other Tulsa Zoo animal. Her travails in traveling via ship and airplane from Calcutta to Bermuda to New York are detailed in a special display in the Elephant Encounter Museum. A children's book has also been published about her journey and unscheduled stopover in Bermuda. Gunda's first home was Bird Hall. Ensuing years brought several more elephants to the zoo. Sneezy, the bull elephant, arrived in 1977, and Sooky, a second female, arrived in 1998.

The Animal Kingdom Building, built in 1957, is the zoo's oldest remaining building. It was formerly called the Primate/Aviary Building. In 1978, the Robert J. LaFortune Living Museum Complex opened to the public. In 1994, a $635,000 renovation campaign for the polar bear exhibit - called Build the Bear Necessities - began. In 1997, the Elephant Encounter opened with a state-of-the-art museum and indoor viewing area. The zoo's education complex - Helmerich Discovery Center, BOk Pavilion, and Bank of America Amphitheater - opened January 1, 1998. One of the most popular exhibits, the Tropical American Rain Forest, opened July 1, 1997.

Siamang Island, completed in 1999, was made possible by funds from the 1998 WALTZ On the Wild Side, the Zoo's annual black-tie fund-raiser.

Under the guidance of Zoo Director Larry Nunley, a master plan was prepared which is taking the zoo on an aggressive path into the next decade and beyond. Most recently, the multi-million dollar state of the art penguin exhibit was completed in 2002. Currently the zoo is in the final phases of a state of the art veterinary hospital which will enable zoo staff to provide top notch care for its animal collection.

With Stephen Walker at the helm, the zoo is launching its most aggressive capital campaign to date. The Growing Wild! campaign will include a new elephant demonstration yard and big cat exhibit coupled with a state of the art events center. In addition, this campaign will include the renovation of the California sea lion exhibit, which will complete the Oceans and Islands section of the zoo.
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