Lowry Park Zoo

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Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo
Location Tampa, Florida, USA
Coordinates 28°00′48″N 82°28′11″W / 28.0133°N 82.4697°W / 28.0133; -82.4697Coordinates: 28°00′48″N 82°28′11″W / 28.0133°N 82.4697°W / 28.0133; -82.4697
Land area 63 acres (25 ha)
Number of animals 1,000+ [1]
Memberships AZA[2]
Website http://www.lowryparkzoo.org

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is a 63-acre (25 ha) nonprofit zoo located in Tampa, Florida. In 2009, Lowry Park Zoo was voted the #1 Family Friendly Zoo in the US by Parents Magazine,[3] and is recognized by the State of Florida as the center for Florida wildlife conservation and biodiversity (HB 457).

Guests will find many interactive exhibits and opportunities to get closer to wildlife -- feed a giraffe, hold a lorikeet, touch a stingray and more. The zoo’s Manatee and Aquatic Center expands the traditional boundaries of a zoo, focusing efforts on critical care for injured, sick and orphaned wild manatees. Also at the zoo, guests will find splash ground water play areas, wild rides, educational shows and several foodservice options.

The zoo is operated by the Lowry Park Zoological Society, an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to providing exemplary programs in education, recreation, conservation and research to benefit the general public and to enhance the quality of life in Tampa Bay. The zoo also exists as a center for conservation of endangered wildlife both locally and around the globe.

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) as well as a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), the Florida Association of Zoos and Aquariums (FAZA) and the Florida Attractions Association (FAA).


Tampa's first zoo was a small collection of exotic animals in Plant Park on the grounds of the University of Tampa across the Hillsborough River from downtown.

During the middle 1950s, Mayor Nick Nuccio led the push to move the zoo to a more spacious location. Land further up the river near the neighborhood of Seminole Heights was chosen. The combination zoo and park was christened Lowry Park after General Sumter Loper Lowry, a local resident celebrated for civic contributions and his service in several wars, but vilified by some for his controversial political views.[4]

The old rainbow bridge to Fairyland, Lowry Park Zoo, c. 1980

Lowry Park Zoo opened in 1957. The zoo shared the park with Fairyland, where concrete statues depicting fairy tales and nursery rhymes were along a winding maze of paths beneath the limbs of sprawling oak trees. This whimsical area was accessible via a large rainbow bridge.[5]

As the wildlife collection grew, other attractions and rides were also added. By the early 1980s, the zoo featured a small roller coaster, a skyride, and a kid-sized train, among other kiddie rides. However, the zoo facilities were in need of repair and renovation, with the animals cramped concrete quarters so poor that the Humane Society called it “one of the worst zoos in America”.[6]

After several years of fundraising and with the help and support of mayor Bob Martinez and the city of Tampa, the original Lowry Park Zoo closed on September 7, 1987 for a $20 million reconstruction in which nearly all traces of the original zoo (including Fairyland) were removed and replaced with more modern facilities. The first phase of the revamped zoo opened in March 1988. Several additions and expansions since then have brought the zoo to its current configuration.[7][8]


Meerkats at Lowry Park Zoo

The zoo features a larger collection of Florida species than any other zoo and includes Key deer, American alligator, flamingos, Roseate spoonbill, Florida panther, American crocodile, North American river otter and many other species. The zoo also features several hands-on exhibits, including lorikeet feeding, stingray feeding, an interactive discovery center, a petting area, and a West Indian manatee hospital. The most recent addition to the zoo is Safari Africa, which houses African elephants, giraffe, Grevy's zebra, white rhinoceros, shoebill stork, okapi, meerkats and other African species.

One of the zoos oldest sections, the Asian Domain, was renovated and renamed the Asian Gardens in 2007. Exhibits there include Indian rhinoceros, Malayan tigers, babirusa, Komodo dragon, clouded leopards, sloth bears, and an Indonesian-themed aviary.


The zoo has 95 Species Survival Plan projects, which includes threatened and endangered species and species of special concern. These include chimpanzee, Bornean orangutan, mandrill, siamang, colobus, golden lion tamarin, ring-tailed lemur, Indian rhinoceros, clouded leopard, sloth bear, babirusa, red wolf, African elephant, Bali mynah, Victoria crowned pigeon, great Indian hornbill, palm cockatoo, and Komodo dragon programs.

The zoo hosts a hospital for Florida manatees in which injured animals are rehabilitated with the intent of returning them to the wild. It is the only non-profit hospital in the world specifically dedicated to critical care for injured, sick and orphaned wild manatees. The zoo works in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to rescue, rehabilitate and release Florida’s endangered manatees. In 2012, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo was honored with a “Significant Achievement in North American Conservation Award” for its work with manatees, presented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Other notable conservation projects include Florida panthers, whooping cranes, Key deer, and the Butterfly Conservation Initiative.


Starting with the Australia addition, Lowry Park Zoo has added several children's rides, including a merry go round, "Flying Bananas", and a mini-roller coaster.

Gator Falls, which opened in June 2008, is a log flume ride. It is the largest and most expensive ride in the zoo to date, costing US$1.5 million to build. The ride features a single 30-foot (9.1 m) drop, and the track carries riders over the park's Philippine crocodile exhibit


Tiger escape[edit]

In 2006, one of the zoo's two Sumatran tigers, a 14-year-old female named Enshala, slipped through an unlocked gate and into an area undergoing renovation. The zoo director, Lex Salisbury, defended his decision to shoot and kill the animal after attempts to tranquilize the tiger failed and the animal lurched towards the animal doctor that had shot the tranquilizer dart.[9][10]

Later in 2006, a group known as "Tampa's Zoo Advocates" formed. The organization seeks to improve the living conditions of the animals as well as working conditions of the employees of Lowry Park Zoo.

Salisbury scandal[edit]

In April 2008, 15 patas monkeys escaped from Safari Wild, a for-profit animal attraction under development east of Tampa in rural Polk County.[11] This brought media attention to the venture, which is owned and operated by long-time Lowry Park Zoo director Lex Salisbury.[12]

Subsequent investigations revealed many questionable transactions between Safari Wild and Lowry Park Zoo, including the transfer of over 200 zoo animals to Safari Wild, zoo funds being used to build structures on Safari Wild property, and payments from the zoo to "board" animals at Safari Wild.[13][14] The city of Tampa, which provides a portion of the zoo's annual budget, demanded an audit detailing the relationship between Lowry Park, Salisbury, and his outside business ventures.[13]

The audit was released in December 2008 and disclosed many questionable dealing between the zoo and Safari Wild. It also uncovered violations of zoo policies by Salisbury, including increasing his own bonus payments, charging the zoo for personal travel, and using zoo employees for his personal work. Auditors estimated that Salisbury owed the zoo more than $200,000 and suggested a criminal investigation.[15][16][17] On December 19, 2008, Salisbury, under pressure from the zoo's board of directors and the city of Tampa, resigned from his position at the zoo.[16]

As a result of possible violations of animal transfer rules and species survival plans, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums suspended the membership of Lowry Park Zoo and of Larry Killmar, the zoo's Director of Collections who had authorized many of Salisbury's questionable animal transfers.[18] Under Killmar, the zoo reorganized its internal policies over several months, and on March 27, 2009, the AZA reinstated the membership of both Lowry Park Zoo and its director of collections.[19]

The saga came to a close in August 2009 when Salisbury and the Lowry Park Zoo board agreed to a settlement in which Salisbury paid $2,200 and agreed to return all the structures, fencing, and equipment that the zoo had built at Safari Wild but did not admit to any wrongdoing.[20]


  1. ^ http://www.lowryparkzoo.org/animals_and_habitat_areas.php
  2. ^ "List of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". aza.org. AZA. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  3. ^ Maureen, By. "The 10 Best Zoos for Kids: 1. Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, FL". Parents.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  4. ^ By HP-Time.com Monday, Apr. 02, 1956 (1956-04-02). "The Land of Boycott - TIME". Time.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  5. ^ "Nick Chillura Nuccio – 47th and 49th Mayor of Tampa". Tampagov.net. Retrieved 2008-12-22. [dead link]
  6. ^ Tampa zoo tops for kids
  7. ^ "Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo - Zoo History". Lowryparkzoo.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. [dead link]
  8. ^ French, Thomas (2010). Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 1-4013-2346-4. 
  9. ^ "Hillsborough: Loose tiger killed at zoo". Sptimes.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  10. ^ "Tampabay: As tiger leapt, zoo director had no doubt". Sptimes.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  11. ^ Escape from Monkey Island sptimes.com
  12. ^ "Monkeys that started zoo saga recaptured - St. Petersburg Times". Tampabay.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  13. ^ a b "Lowry Park chief steps down temporarily - St. Petersburg Times". Tampabay.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  14. ^ "Records show 200 animal transactions involving Lowry Park, president - St. Petersburg Times". Tampabay.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  15. ^ "Tampa mayor recommends Lowry Park Zoo director be fired, investigated - St. Petersburg Times". Tampabay.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  16. ^ a b "Lowry Park's longtime chief forced to resign - St. Petersburg Times". Tampabay.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  17. ^ "Lowry Park Zoo president soon to be investigated by the city of Tampa | 10connects.com | Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater". Tampabays10.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  18. ^ "Salisbury resigns from Zoological Association of America - St. Petersburg Times". Tampabay.com. Retrieved 2008-12-22. [dead link]
  19. ^ "Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo earns back its accreditation - St. Petersburg Times". Tampabay.com. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  20. ^ Salisbury settles with Lowry Park Zoo - St. Petersburg Times Tampabay.com. Retrieved 2010-07-06

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