July 1, 2011 - First Public Zoo in the U.S.

– 1874

Sometimes we humans like to claim a local sight as “the tallest,” “the largest,” or “the first.” (Hey, even somewhat unflattering claims like “the wettest,” “the hottest,” and “the stormiest” crop up!) But savvy travelers notice that more than one tunnel is “the longest tunnel in the world,” say, or that more than one cathedral is “the oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere.”

Well, I spotted one of those “facts”: both the Philadelphia Zoo (Pennsylvania) and the Central Park Zoo (New York) are billed as “the first public zoo in the United States.”

The Philadelphia Zoo lays its claim on being chartered on March 21, 1859, whereas the Central Park Zoo was chartered in 1864. However, people started enjoying the Central Park Zoo in the 1860s, whereas the Philadelphia Zoo wasn't open to the public until July 1, 1874. (Philadelphia let a little thing called the Civil War sidetrack the zoo-building plans!)

Back when these early zoos were opened, they were called zoological gardens or menageries. The Philadelphia Zoo cost 25 cents admission to see about 1,000 exhibited animals.

These days, visitors are charged from $15 (children) to $18 (adults) to see about 1,500 animals. But the zoo now features a children's zoo, a balloon ride, a paddleboat lake, and a carousel. More important, it is much more than just a fun family outing. It is one of the best zoos for breeding animals that are difficult to breed in captivity, and it houses many rare and endangered species that scientists hope to help through breeding programs. It also works with groups around the world to protect wild animals in their natural habitats.

Celebrate zoos!

Visit your nearest zoological garden. Better yet, become a member!

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