Prospect Park Zoo
Logo of Prospect Zoo, part of the Wildlife Conservation Society
|Date opened||1890 (a menagerie); July 3, 1935 (city zoo); October 5, 1993 (wildlife conservation center)|
|Location||450 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, USA 11225, in Prospect Park|
|Land area||12 acres (4.9 ha)|
|Number of animals||627 (2007) |
|Number of species||141 (2007) |
The Prospect Park Zoo is a 12-acre (4.9 ha) zoo located off Flatbush Avenue on the eastern side of Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City. Its precursor, the Menagerie, opened in 1890. The present facility first opened as a city zoo on July 3, 1935 and was part of a larger revitalization program of city parks, playgrounds and zoos initiated in 1934 by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. It was built, in large part, through Civil Works Administration and Works Project Administration (WPA) labor and funding.
After 53 years of operation as a city zoo run by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Prospect Park Zoo closed on June 1988 for reconstruction. The closure signaled the start of a five year, $37 million renovation program, that, save for the exteriors of the 1930s-era buildings, completely replaced the zoo. It was rededicated on October 5, 1993 as the Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center, joining an integrated system of four zoos and one aquarium managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), all of which are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
The Prospect Park Zoo presently offers children's educational programs, is engaged in restoration of endangered species populations, runs a Wildlife Theater and reaches out to the local community through volunteer programs. As of 2007, the zoo housed nearly 630 animals representing 141 species; it was visited by about 234,000 people in 2007.
- 1 The zoo today
- 2 Evolution of Brooklyn zoological gardens
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes
- 5 External links
The zoo today
The Prospect Park Zoo is part of the Wildlife Conservation Society integrated network of zoos and aquaria spread throughout New York City. Located at 450 Flatbush Avenue, across from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the zoo is situated on a 12-acre (4.9 ha) plot somewhat lower than street level in Prospect Park and is one of the smaller facilities in the WCS system. Visitors may enter through the Flatbush Avenue entrance or from within Prospect Park, near Leffert's Homestead and the Carousel.
The zoo presents three themed exhibition venues, each housed in a dedicated building.
World of Animals
The World of Animals in the southern quadrant of the zoo, features the Discovery Trail. The trail begins in the World of Animals building, but visitors quickly pass to an outdoor path that winds through the southern third of the zoo. Animals from diverse corners of the globe are shown in settings not unlike their natural habitats. Visitors may find along the trail prairie dogs, Porcupines, Parma Wallabies, Red Pandas, Emus, Dingos, and other animals. Signs often ask challenging questions, reinforcing presentations made in the Zoo's Discovery Center, or alert viewers to look for signs of animal habitation. Along one part of the Discovery Trail, young visitors may crawl through "underground burrows" to observation posts roofed with clear, hemispherical observation ports. They may observe prairie dogs in the ground, right in the midst of the animals themselves.
Animal Lifestyles, in the western quadrant of the zoo, features indoor habitat exhibits. Visitors in the foyer of the building are shown Life in the Water, Life in Air, and Life on Land dioramas. Each diorama holds a carefully controlled environment that features select animals. These central displays broadly relate animals to their surrounds. Exhibits featuring more specific biota branch off from the central foyer. Side exhibits center on cotton-top tamarins, meerkats, emerald tree boas, Dwarf Mongooses, desert monitors, among others. Some of these exhibits feature critically endangered animals, such as the Bali Myna, which exist in greater numbers in captivity than in the wild. The Prospect Park Zoo is engaged in breeding such species in captivity, a part of the larger wild life recovery program of the Wildlife Conservation Society. The zoo is engaged in augmenting populations of Bali Mynah and Cottontop Tamarins through breeding in captivity.
The main Animal Lifestyles exhibit consists of a troop of hamadryas baboons. Zoo visitors may observe the troop in a large glassed-in gallery which looks out into a rocky outcrop. Small caves in the outcrop lead to interior burrows where the animals may avoid inclement weather. The rear wall of the gallery illustrates common forms of baboon signalling and behavior, along with other social aspects of the animals. Ample seating allows visitors to observe the troop.
Animals in our Lives
Animals in our Lives in the northern quadrant of the zoo has both indoor and outdoor exhibits illustrating myriad relationships between animals and people and animal adaptations. The Animals in Art themed area occupies one side of the Animals in Our Lives building. At the art station, drawing supplies are provided, and young visitors learn to observe wildlife by taking the time to sketch it. Some animals found here have been the subjects of art through the ages, while other up-close exhibits highlight the inherent beauty and form of certain species. The other side of the building showcases animals and their adaptations for a variety of survival needs. Here, visitors learn how colors help animals attract one another, blend into their surroundings or send off warning signals. A small nocturnal area showcases animals who have adapted to life at night.
A small working barn further north of the building contains the Animals in Our Lives exhibit. It is organized around a working barn with sheep, cows, goats, ducks, geese and other "working" animals. The farm setting serves to remind visitors that animals have commercial importance in human affairs.
The zoo hosts educational venues as well as exhibits. These revolve around the Discovery Center, a building with classrooms and laboratories designed to introduce school-age children to investigative practices of environmental and wildlife scientists. The Discovery Center introduces children to laboratory practices; they learn about and use professional laboratory equipment and learn how to integrate what they observe into zoological theory. These programs are based on educational concepts developed through WIZE (Wildlife Inquiry through Zoo Education), a program developed by Bronx Zoo educators.
The volunteer program at the Prospect 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. Following their graduation, docents assist staff in putting on demonstrations and explaining exhibits.
Special events round out these periodic offerings. In 2007, Prospect Park Zoo outreach educators presented “Bison and American Prairies” at the Brooklyn Public Library. They employed kinaesthetic activities to teach about the dynamics of food webs, the role of keystone species, and the effect of one animal’s extinction on other animals. WCS efforts to conserve the American bison illustrated various aspects of animal population interactions.
The zoo grounds and building exteriors were designed by Aymar Embury II. The facility consists of six red brick and lime-stoned trimmed buildings grouped in a semi-circular arrangement around a central courtyard with the sea lion pool occupying the center of the court. The building exteriors date to the 1930s while the interiors were built during the 1989 – 1993 reconstruction. There is a freestanding wooden barn just north of the circular group of buildings. A set of stairs from the main entrance leads visitors down to zoo level. A small restaurant and the administrative center is immediately to the left, occupying the southeastern quadrant of the zoo. The Discovery Center is immediately to the right, occupying the northeastern quadrant of the zoo. Arrayed in front of the visitor are the three exhibit buildings, The World of Animals to the south, the Animal Lifestyles building, behind the sea lion pool directly in front of the visitor, Animals in our Lives is to the right. Visitors may view the exhibits in any order.
Evolution of Brooklyn zoological gardens
The original 1866 proposal of Prospect Park featured a "Zoological Garden" on the western flank of the park, near the present Litchfield Villa, but the garden had not been started by the time Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux separated from the park in 1874. This notwithstanding, a few features of the original park design did serve zoological purposes. A Wild Fowl Pond, once occupying the northern quadrant of the zoo grounds, served as a haven for water birds. A Deer Paddock, once occupying the southern quadrants of the zoo grounds, was a penned-in area for deer. In addition, a flock of sheep regularly maintained the grass in the park meadows and were kept in a paddock on the eastern flank of Sullivan Hill, near the now-demolished Dairy Farmhouse.
Interest in zoological gardens flowered in the last decade of the 19th century. An informal Menagerie began to take shape within Prospect Park in May 1890 when the newly appointed president of the City of Brooklyn Parks Commission, George V. Brower, donated "three young cinnamon bears." State Treasurer Harry Adams followed with a donation of three white deer, establishing a pattern. It was mainly through donations of animals by rich or prominent individuals that the Menagerie grew. By 1893, one observer noted that “seven seals arrived, one buffalo, from the estate of Samuel B. Duryea, three red foxes, three bears, one sacred cow, two white deer, five red deer, seven seals, and twelve to fifteen peacocks."
The animals were kept in pens on Sullivan Hill, situated across the East Drive from the zoo's present location, near the sheep paddock and northeast of the Dairy Farmhouse. Of the original zoological facilities in the park, the Deer Paddock, located near the present Carousel, was converted into a meadow and the deer were moved to the new Menagerie, The Wild Fowl Pond remained, located on the east side of the park in a low area now forming the northern part of the zoo.
The Menagerie continued to accrue animals in the first decades of the 20th century. These were generally donated by prominent individuals and institutions and formed a varied collection of specimens both native to North America and other regions of the world.
Robert Moses and the making of the "modern" Prospect Park Zoo
When he assumed office in January 1934, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia tapped Robert Moses to head a newly unified Parks Department. Moses soon prepared extensive plans to reconstruct the city's parks, renovate existing facilities and create new swimming pools, zoos, playgrounds and parks. Moses acquired substantial Civil Works Administration, and later, Works Progress Administration funding and soon embarked upon an eight-year city-wide construction program, relieving some of the high unemployment in New York City in this Depression year.
Plans for the new Prospect Park Zoo, prepared by Aymar Embury II, were announced in March 1934. The area between the Wild Fowl Pond and former Deer Paddock on the east side of the park, situated across the East Drive from the Menagerie, was chosen as the site for the new zoo. Architect Embury designed a half circle of six brick buildings centered on a seal pool. Built of red brick with limestone trim, the buildings featured bas-relief scenes from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
Five sculptors executed a total of thirteen such scenes, not only on the front and back walls of zoo buildings, but also on all four sides of both brick entrance shelters at Flatbush Avenue. However, the positioning of some of the bas-reliefs makes them less accessible than others.
 Dedicated on July 3, 1935 as the Prospect Park Zoo, the buildings constituted an integrated facility and were seen as a great improvement over the somewhat haphazardly developed Menagerie. The zoo featured an extensive bear pit, a seal pool, a Lion's house (the current Animals in our Lives building) an Elephant's House (the current Animal Lifestyles building) and a house for monkeys, birds, and horned animals (now the World of Animals building). With the completion of the new zoo, The Dairy Farmhouse, sheep paddock, and Menagerie were demolished and the sheep flock was replaced with mechanical mowers. The site of the old Menagerie has since been allowed to revert to forest land.
A bright beginning; a slow decline
For the next fifty years, the zoo served as a showcase of large animals from far away places, appealing to a sense of wonder. An estimated one million people visited the Prospect Park Zoo annually prior to World War II, but attendance gradually declined, reaching about a half million by the early 1980s. Around this time, the facility showed signs of deterioration. Writing in New York Magazine in late 1970, writer Erik Sanberg-Diment termed the zoo the 'rattiest' in New York – "in the literal sense of the word. (I've never been there without seeing several rodents romping in the bear lair)". He reported that 'Vultch', a Southern United States Black Vulture which was one of the zoo's earliest residents "…is still there, looking down his beak at visitors littering the walks, and celebrating his 35th anniversary in the same old cage."
A decade later, a New York Times reporter visiting the zoo noted that "...an Asiatic Black Bear lay on a rock a short distance from a guard rail. A shattered wine bottle, a cracked stick, and a number of empty beer cans were strewn about the ground a few feet in front of him. 'How many times have I seen a bear lift his foot and leave a bloody foot print?' said John Kinzig, a park supervisor at the Prospect Park Zoo. 'Vandalism is a major problem, and deterioration is overtaking repairs.'" Activists were pressing for major renovations of the zoo, which, in 1983, was rated by the Humane Society of the United States as one of the "10 worst" zoos in the country. Others felt that a zoo was not in keeping with the original design of Prospect Park and urged its complete removal from the grounds. A fatal accident of an 11 year-old boy scaling the fence to the polar bear pit only served to underscore difficulties with the fifty-year-old facility.
After fifteen years of off-again, on-again, conversations, The Koch Administration and the then-named NY Zoological Society (now Wildlife Conservation Society), signed a fifty-year agreement in April 1980, where the Central, Prospect, and Queens zoos would be administered by the Society. Specific plans for Prospect Park Zoo were another seven years in the making. By late summer 1987, an $18 million, two and a half year renovation plan was put forth to renovate Prospect Park Zoo and coordinate its venue with other facilities to avoid redundant programming. Prospect Park Zoo was slated to specialize in children programs and house smaller, unaggressive animal species.
Renovation of a re-purposed zoo
The Prospect Park Zoo closed to the public in June 1988. Over the next six months, new homes were found for the displaced animals in other zoos throughout the US. Demolition was managed by the Parks Department and began in June 1989, commencing what became nearly a five year, $37 million effort, overrunning initial estimates by two years and $19 million. The exteriors of the Aymar Embury buildings were preserved, but badly deteriorated interiors were gutted, pits and cages were demolished, and new structures were built. The facilities were turned over to the NY Zoological Society in April 1993.
A further six months were needed to repopulate the zoo, prepare exhibits, and ready the facility for the public. The re-purposed zoo opened on October 5, 1993 under the rubric "Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center". The Zoological Society hoped that the new name would suggest that the 'Wildlife Conservation Center' was far more than a mere 'zoo'; it was indeed a facility designed to preserve animal species. This name change coincided with the renaming of the zoological society to the 'Wildlife Conservation Society'.
The programs of the new center were geared toward educating children. Classrooms for the Discovery Center were housed in a dedicated building on the north wing of the zoo. Exhibits housed smaller species, eschewing elephants, tigers, and lions, and augmented displays with interactive exhibits. The public, however, continued to call the facility 'The Prospect Park Zoo', and over the ensuing thirteen years the old name quietly stuck. Even in WCS literature 'Prospect Park Zoo' is now used interchangeably with the new name.
The Wildlife Conservation Society supports the Prospect Park Zoo through a combination of private funds and subsidies from the city, so the zoo is vulnerable to funding shortfalls during city fiscal crises. This was made clear on April 15, 2003 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg published his "doomsday budget" proposal for the next fiscal year, beginning in July 2003. Among other cuts to help close an overall $3.8 billion budget deficit, the Mayor proposed to cut all city funding for The Prospect Park Zoo and the Queens Zoo, and trim funding for the New York Aquarium and Bronx Zoo. The two zoos were the smallest among the facilities managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, and had the lowest annual attendance rates, approximately 200,000 for each threatened zoo. In contrast, the Bronx Zoo boasted annual attendance of two million and the Central Park Zoo enjoyed one million visitors annually.
Over the next two months, the fate of the two zoos hung in limbo while the city's executive branch and City Council hammered out a compromise budget. While there were a number of items on the budget, the zoo closures remained among the more visible of anticipated losses. In the middle of June, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller visited the zoo, and in a press conference outlined some of the pragmatic consequences of closure: a savings estimated by the city of $6 million for both facilities that would be offset by a WCS estimated expenditure of $8 million, to decommission facilities and — on short notice — find homes for 160 displaced animals. If the estimates were correct, reasoning went, it would be cheaper to run the zoos than to shut them down.
By the start of the new fiscal year in July 2003 the approved budget restored a reduced funding level to the affected WCS facilities. To keep the Prospect Park and Queens zoos open, the WCS had to close two classroom based instructional programs, lay off the supporting full- and part-time instructors and double admission fees. Funding levels for the Wildlife Conservation Society were restored in the 2007 city budget, though vulnerability to shortfalls remain. In the opening months of 2009, The WCS itself faced the prospect of losing its fiscal year 2010 New York State funding. While not citing specifics concerning Prospect Park Zoo, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported in the NY Daily News that the proposed cuts will involve "'layoffs [that] would cut across the board,' and include 'front-line workers' in sales, groundskeeping and other positions, and include both union and nonunion positions". 
As of 2007, 234,000 people visited the Prospect Park Zoo, a drop of 1,000 from the 2006 level of 235,000. Visitation since then has shown a steady increase with 269,914 people visiting in 2009.
- "Historic Places: Zoo". Prospect Park Alliance. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- Wildlife Conservation Society (Summer 2007). Prospect Park Zoo (prospectparkzoo.com) Visitor Brochure. 200/603. Wildlife Conservation Society.
- Wildlife Conservation Society (December 2007). Annual Report 2007 (offline: paper, online: PDF). Wildlife Conservation Society. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
- "List of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". aza.org. AZA. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
- The others are Bronx Zoo, the flagship zoo; Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and New York Aquarium.
- Wildlife Conservation Society (PDF). Map: Prospect Park Zoo (Map) (5th ed.). http://web.archive.org/web/20070927175713/http://nyzoosandaquarium.com/media/file/Prospectparkzoomap05.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
- Berenson, Richard J.; deMause, Neil (2001). The Complete Illustrated Guidebook to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. New York: Silver Lining Books. pp. 86–91. ISBN 0-7607-2213-7.
- Exhibit signage, Prospect Park Zoo
- Wildlife Conservation Society (December 2005). Annual Report 2005 (offline: paper, online: PDF). Wildlife Conservation Society. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-04-15.
- "City Zoos Education". Wildlife Conservation Center. Archived from the original on 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
- "About the City Zoos". Wildlife Conservation Society. Archived from the original on 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
- "City Zoos Volunteers". Wildlife Conservation Society. Archived from the original on 2008-01-20. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
- Lancaster, Clay (1972). Prospect Park Handbook. New York: Long Island University Press. pp. 80–97. ISBN 0-913252-06-9.
- "Smith Decries 'Back-Alley Politics' Of La Guardia in Row With Moses; At Opening of New Prospect Park Zoo Former Governor Extols Park Commissioner, Who Joins Mayor in Shunning Ceremony -- 3,000 View Glittering $500,000 Centre.". The New York Times (New York Times Company). 1935-07-04. pp. page 1, continued on page 17. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- "Doings at Today's Meeting of the Board". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn Daily Eagle). 1890-05-20. pp. Page 6, Column 4. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- References to acquisitions of three cinnamon bears, kept in pens near the Dairy, before dinner at (a then expanded, now demolished) Shelter (Concert Grove) House. "Guests of the Park Commissioners - Prominent Citizens Enjoy a Banquet and Inspect Recent Improvements". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn Daily Eagle). 1890-07-03. pp. Page 1, Column 8. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- "Menagerie, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, N.Y., c.1900.". Prospect Park Alliance Photo Archive. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- Among other changes under way in the last decade of the 19th century, the Deer Paddock from the original park design merged with the Menagerie. The original Deer Paddock became a small meadow. This small meadow was later incorporated into Leffert's Homestead (1918) and the southern part of the present Zoo (1935) "Beauties of the Park - Many Improvements Contemplated by the Commissioners". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn Daily Eagle). 1890-03-23. pp. Page 13, Columns 1 and 2. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- In June 1891, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran a front page interview with George V. Brower, President of the Parks Commission, referring to the Prospect Park Menagerie still as a contemplated future project. Mr. Brower did say a "nucleus" had been established, and goes on to inventory the holdings in this nucleus (see reference for details). "A Park Menagerie - Does Public Sentiment Favor One?". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn Daily Eagle). 1891-06-21. pp. Page 1, Column 3. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- "New Animals For The Park". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn Daily Eagle). 1902-05-04. pp. Page 54, Column 2. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- "Robert Moses and the Modern Park System (1929-1965)". Retrieved 2006-12-23.
- "'picture-Book' Zoo Being Built In Park". The New York Times (New York Times Company). 1934-03-09. pp. Page 12. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- Sprague, Elmer (2008). Brooklyn Public Monuments: Sculpture for Civic Memory and Urban Pride. Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing. pp. 107–120. ISBN 978-159858-582-7.
- Sandberg-Diment, Erik (1970-09-07). "The Zoo Story". New York Magazine 3 (36): 59. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- "City's 3 Zoos to Be Taken Over By New York Zoological Society". The New York Times (New York Times Company). 1980-04-23. pp. Metropolitan Report, Page B1. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
- Newton, James S. (1987-04-05). "New Focus Is Planned For Prospect Park Zoo". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). pp. Late City Final Edition, Section 1, Page 52, Column 5. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- Juan Perez was an eleven-year-old boy who scaled a high iron picket fence separating the public area from the polar bear pit. Barron, James (1987-05-20). "Polar Bears Kill A Child At Prospect Park Zoo" (Synopsis free; fee for full article). The New York Times (New York Times Company). pp. Late City Final Edition, Section A, Page 1, Column 1. Retrieved 2006-08-28.
- Finder, Alan (1993-04-08). "Rebuilding a Brooklyn Zoo, Step by Agonizing Step; When the Residents Can't Complain, Why Rush a Much-Delayed City Project?". The New York Times (New York Times Company). pp. Late Edition – Final, Section B, Page 1, Column 2. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- The renovation was originally estimated to cost $18 million dollars and require two and a half years. Reconstruction was complete in April 1993 at a cost reported in the New York Times, of $37 million dollars.
- Clines, Francis X. (1993-02-04). "What's 3 Letters and Zoologically Incorrect?". The New York Times (New York Times Company). pp. Late Edition – Final, Section A, Page 1, Column 3. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- Steinhauer, Jennifer (2003-04-15). "Mayor's Plans Ask for Closing Of 2 City Zoos". The New York Times (New York Times Company). pp. Late Edition –Final, Section D, Page 1, Column 5. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- Wildlife Conservation Society (December 2006). Annual Report 2006 (offline: paper, online: PDF). Wildlife Conservation Society. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-04-15.
- "Speaker Miller And Brooklyn Delegation Fight To Keep NYC Zoos Open For Business" (PDF) (Press release). New York City Council. 2003-06-10. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- Cooper, Michael (2003-06-11). "Robbed of White Knight Role, Council Changes Horses". The New York Times (New York Times Company). pp. Late Edition – Final, Section B, Page 3, Column 1. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- Hernández, Daisy (2003-07-20). "Classes at 2 Zoos Falling Victim To City's Fiscal Law of Jungle". The New York Times (New York Times Company). pp. Late Edition – Final, Section 1, Page 31, Column 1. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- "From the Financial Desk… City Passes FY 2007 Budget" (Press release). Wildlife Conservation Society. June 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-13.
- Kappstatter, Bob (2009-01-16). "Bronx Zoo, New York aquarium staff face layoffs due to potential state, city budget cuts". New York Daily News (Daily News Company). Retrieved 2009-03-19.
- Wildlife Conservation Society (December 2007). Annual Report 2007 (offline: paper, online: PDF). Wildlife Conservation Society. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prospect Park Zoo.|
- Description of the zoo at the Prospect Park Alliance web site
- Wildlife Conservation Society's Prospect Park Zoo web site
- Map of Prospect Park Zoo (Portable Document Format - PDF)
- Historical images of the Menagerie and Prospect Park Zoo