Detroit Zoo

Detroit Zoo
Detroit Zoo

The Horace Rackham Memorial Fountain by Corrado Parducci
Date opened 1883; August 1, 1928
Location Royal Oak, Michigan, USA
Land area 125 acres (51 ha)[1]
Coordinates 42°28′36.74″N 83°9′21.77″W / 42.4768722°N 83.1560472°W / 42.4768722; -83.1560472
Number of animals 6,800
Number of species 270+
Memberships AZA[2]

The Detroit Zoological Park, commonly known as the Detroit Zoo, is located about 2 miles (3.2 km) north of the Detroit city limits at the intersection of Woodward Avenue, 10 Mile Road, and Interstate 696 in Royal Oak and Huntington Woods, Michigan, USA. The Detroit Zoological Society, a non-profit organization, operates both the Detroit Zoo and the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, located in the city of Detroit. The Detroit Zoological Society is responsible for the care and feeding of more than 1,800 vertebrates and 5,000 invertebrates representing over 270 species.



Historical Marker at the main entrance.

The first Detroit Zoo opened in 1883 on Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, across from the then site of Tiger Stadium. A circus had arrived in town, only to go broke financially. Luther Beecher, a leading Detroit citizen and capitalist, financed the purchase of the circus animals and erected a building for their display called the Detroit Zoological Garden. The zoo closed the following year and the building converted into a horse auction.[3] The Detroit Zoological Society was founded in 1911, but the zoo's official opening did not occur until August 1, 1928. At the opening ceremony, acting Mayor John C. Nagel was to speak to the gathered crowd. Arriving late, Nagel parked his car behind the bear dens and as he came rushing around the front, Morris, a polar bear, leaped from his moat and stood directly in front of Nagel. Unaware how precarious his situation was, Nagel stuck out his hand and walked toward the polar bear joking, "He's the reception committee." The keepers rushed the bear and forced him back into the moat, leaving the mayor uninjured.[4] Two years later the Bear Dens and Sheep Rock had been added, followed shortly by the Bird House. Next to be constructed were the Elk Exhibit, the Baboon Rock, and Primate and Reptile houses. The Detroit Zoo was the first in America with cageless exhibits.[5] The onset of the Great Depression brought to a halt additional major projects, but expansion resumed in the 1940s and has periodically continued since then. During the depression, one of the more popular attractions was Jo Mendi, a four-year-old chimpanzee purchased by the zoo director with his own funds. A veteran of Broadway and motion pictures, the chimp performed an act for the audience. As one press account stated, "he enjoys every minute of the act...He counts his fingers, dresses, laces his shoes, straps up his overalls; pours tea and drinks it; eats with a spoon, dances and waves farewell to his admirers." When the chimp fell ill in late 1932 after eating a penny, surgeons from area hospitals came to check him out. During his recovery, visitors brought toys, peanuts and more than $500 worth of flowers, along with several thousands cards and letters. Jo died in 1934 from hoof and mouth disease.[6] Until 1982, trained chimpanzees performed for visitors, but the act was discontinued at the insistence of animal rights activists.[citation needed] Also in 1982, the zoo began charging an admission fee for the first time.[citation needed]

Current activities

The zoo participates in numerous Species Survival Plans helping preserve critically endangered species. Trumpeter swans and Partula snails were raised at the zoo for reintroduction to the wild, while the zoo has taken in abused circus animals (Barle the polar bear in 2002) and a drug-house guard lion. Barle successfully gave birth to a cub, Talini, in late 2004. In the spring of 2005, two wolverine kits were born at the zoo - a very rare event for the species, which tends to breed poorly in captivity, and symbolic given that Michigan is known as the Wolverine State.[7] The National Amphibian Conservation Center (or Amphibiville) opened in June 2000 and features displays of many varieties of amphibians from around the world and participates in research and conservation efforts for species including the Panamanian golden frog.

The zoo has a number of areas which allow access to the animal's habitats without barriers. The kangaroo habitat, aviary, butterfly house and the rain forest room at Amphibiville have no barriers to keep the animals away from visitors. Species displayed this way include macaws, red kangaroos, sloth, sting ray, poison dart frogs, and iguanas. Peacocks roam the zoo freely and numerous wild native species live in the zoo as well including turkey vultures, squirrels and rabbits. Giraffe and penguin feeding programs also allow the public to interact with animals.

The Arctic Ring of Life (2001) - the world's largest polar bear exhibit opened to the public in 2001.[8][9] The Arctic Ring of Life exhibit is centered around a 300,000-US-gallon (1,100,000 l; 250,000 imp gal) aquarium. The exhibit allows visitors to view the polar bears and seals from a 70 feet (21 m) long underwater tunnel. The tunnel is 12 feet (3.7 m) wide by 8 feet (2.4 m) tall and is made of four-inch (10.1 cm) thick clear acrylic walls that provide a 360-degree view into the aquarium above.[10][11] Other new buildings include the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex (opened 2004) and the 38,000-square-foot (3,500 m2) Ford Education Center (opened 2005) which offers school and youth group programs as well as having a theater and exhibit space.

Detroit Zoo Entrance and water tower
A polar bear swims above the crowd at the Arctic Ring of Life exhibit. June 2007

The zoo made additional news in 2005 when it became the first U.S. zoo to give up its elephants on ethical grounds,[12] claiming the Michigan winters were too harsh for the animals and that confining them to the elephant house during cold months was psychologically stressful. The elephants, named Wanda and Winky, were relocated to the Performing Animal Welfare Society's (PAWS) sanctuary in San Andreas, California.[13] The zoo had housed elephants since its opening. Former Detroit Zoo Elephant Winky was euthanized in April 2008 at the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary.[14] The former elephant exhibit was renovated, and is now home to two white rhinoceros, Jasiri and Tamba.[15]

The Zoo's newest exhibit, Australian Outback Adventure, opened in spring 2006. The exhibit allows visitors to walk through a 2-acre (0.81 ha) simulated Outback containing 17 red kangaroos (10 males and 7 females) and one male and one female red-necked wallabies; nothing separates visitors from the marsupials, allowing the animals to hop freely onto the walking path.[16]


On February 18, 2006, the Detroit City Council voted to shut down the zoo as part of budget cuts, being unable to reach an agreement with the Detroit Zoological Society to take over the park and a legislative grant having expired that day. An uproar ensued and the Council, on March 1, 2006, voted to transfer operations to the Detroit Zoological Society with a promised $4 million grant from the Michigan Legislature. The city retained ownership of the assets, including the Detroit Zoological Institute in Royal Oak and the Belle Isle Nature Zoo in Detroit. The Society is responsible for governance, management and operations, including creating a plan to raise the money needed to keep the facilities operating for generations to come. On August 5, 2008 voters in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties overwhelmingly passed a zoo tax that will raise fifteen million dollars a year for the zoo, approximately half the zoo's budget.

Photo gallery


See also

Portal icon Metro Detroit portal
Portal icon Zoos and Aquariums portal


  1. ^ "Detroit Zoo Joins Fight to Save Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly". Retrieved 2007-07-05. "The Detroit Zoological Society is a non-profit organization that operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo. Situated on 125 acres (51 ha) of naturalistic exhibits, the Detroit Zoo is located at the intersection of Ten Mile Road and Woodward Avenue, just off I-696, in Royal Oak." 
  2. ^ "List of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Austin, William (1974). The First Fifty Years. Detroit Zoological Society.
  4. ^ Houston, Kay (compiled). How the Detroit Zoo's first day was almost its last. Rearview Mirror, Detroit News. February 24, 1999 Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  5. ^ "Wayne County - A Brief History". Archived from the original on 2007-08-26. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  6. ^ "WWJ Newsradio 950 Our Staff". Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  7. ^ Detroit Zoological Society.
  8. ^ PR NEWS WIRE (October 20, 2001). The World's Largest Polar Bear Exhibit Opens at the Detroit Zoo. United Business Media.
  9. ^ Detroit Zoological Society (2001).
  10. ^ "Arctic Ring of Life page 1". Archived from Arctic Ring the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-07-05. 
  11. ^ "Arctic Ring of Life page 2". Archived from the original on 2007-07-08. Retrieved 2007-07-05. 
  12. ^ Zoo sends its elephants packing. Detroit Zoo. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  13. ^ Elephants (April 8, 2005). Detroit Free Press.
  14. ^ Former Detroit Zoo Elephant Winky Dies, Detroit Zoo, April 7, 2008.
  15. ^ Rhinos. Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  16. ^ Outback Adventure Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.

References and further reading

  • Austin, William (1974). The First Fifty Years. The Detroit Zoological Society.
  • Detroit Zoological (2003). Wonders Among Us: Celebrating 75 Years of the Detroit Zoo. Detroit Zoological Society. ISBN 0615124100. 
  • Fisher, Dale (2003). Building Michigan: A Tribute to Michigan's Construction Industry. Grass Lake, MI: Eyry of the Eagle Publishing. ISBN 1891143247. 
  • Rodriguez, Michael and Thomas Featherstone (2003). Detroit's Belle Isle Island Park Gem (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-2315-1. 
  • Kvaran, Einar Einarsson. Shadowing Parducci, unpublished manuscript, Detroit.

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