Central Park Zoo

Central Park Zoo
Central Park Zoo logo.png
Central Park Zoo logo
Central Park Zoo area.jpg
Central area of the Central Park Zoo
Date opened1864 (menagerie); 1934 (zoo); August 8, 1988 (renovated)
LocationCentral Park, New York City, United States
Coordinates40°46′4″N 73°58′18″W / 40°46′4″N 73°58′18″W / 40.76778; -73.97167

The Central Park Zoo is a 6.5-acre (2.6 ha) zoo located at the southeast corner of Central Park in New York City. It is part of an integrated system of four zoos and one aquarium managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). In conjunction with the Central Park Zoo's operations, the WCS offers children's educational programs, is engaged in restoration of endangered species populations, and reaches out to the local community through volunteer programs.

Its precursor, a menagerie, was founded in 1864, becoming the first public zoo to open in New York. The present facility first opened as a city zoo on December 2, 1934, and was part of a larger revitalization program of city parks, playgrounds and zoos initiated in 1934 by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) commissioner Robert Moses. It was built, in large part, through Civil Works Administration and Works Progress Administration (WPA) labor and funding. The Children's Zoo opened to the north of the main zoo in 1960, using funding from a donation by Senator Herbert Lehman and his wife Edith.

After 49 years of operation as a city zoo run by NYC Parks, Central Park Zoo closed in 1983 for reconstruction. The closure was part of a five-year, $35 million renovation program, that completely replaced the zoo's cages with naturalistic environments. It was rededicated on August 8, 1988, as part of a system of five facilities managed by the WCS, all of which are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).[a]


Map of notable buildings and structures at Central Park (note: not all entrances shown). Pan and zoom the map and click on points for more details.

The Central Park Zoo is part of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an integrated network of four zoos and an aquarium spread throughout New York City.[a] Located at East 64th Street and Fifth Avenue, the zoo is situated on a 6.5-acre (2.6 ha)[3] plot in Central Park. Visitors may enter through the Fifth Avenue entrance or from within Central Park.[4]

The Central Park Zoo is a major tourist attraction within Central Park, drawing more than one million people every year. According to a 2011 study by the Central Park Conservancy, the zoo and its surroundings were visited by an estimated four million people each year.[5]:9 However, the WCS cites much lower figures since it only counts patrons with tickets. In 2007, it recorded that 1.01 million people visited the Central Park Zoo,[6] and in 2006, 1.03 million people.[7] As of the Wildlife Conservation Society's 2016 census of its zoos, the Central Park Zoo had 1,487 animals representing 163 species.[8]

Main zoo

Trellised, vine-clad, glass-roofed pergolas link the three major exhibit areas—tropic, temperate and polar—housed in discrete buildings of brick trimmed with granite, masked by vines.[9][10]:213 The exhibit areas are centered around a square central garden that contains a square sea lion pool in its center.[4] The sea lion pool is surrounded by glass fencing to allow visitors to observe the sea lions and their daily feedings.[11]

Exhibits and other buildings

The structure at the central garden's southwestern corner is the "Tropic Zone",[4] which contains a two-story representation of a rain forest. The rain forest contains fruit bats, pythons, monkeys, and toucans. There is also a large free-flight area for birds.[9][10]:215 The elephant house of the original menagerie was formerly located at the site.[10]:215

The Temperate Zone, one of the three major exhibit areas at Central Park Zoo

To the west of the garden is the "Temperate Territory", a landscaped series of paths surrounding a lake.[4] It hosts animals such as red pandas, snow monkeys, and snow leopards.[9][10]:215 A snow leopard exhibit in the Temperate Territory opened in June 2009.[12] The Temperate Territory is located on the site of the 1934 zoo's cafeteria.[10]:215

The northern side of the garden is adjacent to the "Penguins and Sea Birds" section.[4] This multilevel structure contains a chilled penguin house as well as an outdoor polar bear pool.[9][10]:214–215 It is located on the site of a lion house that was built in 1934 along with the original menagerie.[10]:214

The eastern side of the central garden is next to the Arsenal, technically located outside the zoo.[4] The structure was completed in 1851 and originally intended as a weapons and ammunition storehouse for the New York State Militia. It once served as an actual zoo building, but now contains NYC Parks Department offices.[13] Central Park Zoo also includes a 4D theater,[14][15] located to the north of the Arsenal,[4] while a gift shop and ticket booth are located to the south of the Arsenal.[4]

The southern side of the garden contains the Intelligence Garden,[4] located at the site of the original menagerie's horned animal/small mammal house. Its name is inspired by a rare-animal menagerie created by King Wen of Zhou in 1100 B.C.[10]:216 A cafeteria, the Dancing Crane Cafe,[4] is located to the south of the Intelligence Garden.[10]:216

Art and conservation programs

Several works of art are located in the Central Park Zoo. There are several structures preserved from the original zoo built in 1934,[b] which still feature their original animal-themed limestone friezes from Frederick Roth.[11][16] Roth also created a pair of bronze statues, Dancing Goat and Dancing Bear, which flank the southern entrance of the zoo and were retained from the original zoo.[17][18] Additionally, the zoo includes Tigress and Cubs, one of the park's oldest statues. It was created by Auguste Cain in 1867 and moved from an outcropping near the Lake to the Central Park Zoo in 1934.[19]

The zoo coordinates breeding programs for some endangered species as part of the Species Survival Plan, such as thick-billed parrots[20] and red pandas.[21][22] In 2011, the WCS announced that the Central Park Zoo was the first North American zoo to hatch ducklings of critically endangered scaly-sided mergansers.[23][24] In addition, the first example of whispering in non-human primates was observed at the Central Park Zoo in 2013, when tamarin monkeys were heard whispering around a staff member that they disliked.[25][26][27]

The zoo hosts educational venues as well as exhibits. The volunteer program at the Central Park Zoo engages members of the community; it is a combination outreach and educational program for adults. Volunteer guides conduct tours for visitors, while volunteer docents augment the educational program. Docents enroll in a four-month training program.[28] The zoo also offers several programs for students.[29]

Children's Zoo

The Children's Zoo is located north of the main zoo.[4] It is officially named the Tisch Children's Zoo after businessman Laurence A. Tisch, whose donation funded the zoo's 1990s renovation.[30][31] The Children's Zoo contains a petting zoo with goats, sheep, cows, and pigs, as well as the Acorn Theatre, a performing arts theater.[11][32] Admission to the Children's Zoo is included with the purchase of tickets to the main zoo.[32]

Lehman Gates

The Lehman Gates by Paul Manship are a notable feature retained from the original Children's Zoo.[33][34] They were donated by Herbert and Edith Lehman in 1960 in honor of their 50th anniversary, and as part of their donation toward the construction of the Children's Zoo itself.[34] The gates were renovated in the 1980s.[34][10]:163 Additionally, George Delacorte Musical Clock, a gift of George T. Delacorte dedicated in 1965, is mounted on a three-tiered tower above the arcade between the Wildlife Center and the Children's Zoo.[35] The clock contains representations of animals playing instruments, and plays music every half hour, at 0 and 30 minutes past the hour, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. The clock's music is selected from one of 44 pre-recorded tracks.[36]