Detroit Zoo

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Detroit Zoo
The Horace Rackham Memorial Fountain by Corrado Parducci, in 2007.
Date opened 1883; August 1, 1928
Location Royal Oak, Michigan, U.S.
Coordinates 42°28′37″N 83°09′25″W / 42.47694°N 83.15694°W / 42.47694; -83.15694Coordinates: 42°28′37″N 83°09′25″W / 42.47694°N 83.15694°W / 42.47694; -83.15694
Land area 125 acres (51 ha)[1]
No. of animals 2,000+
No. of species 245+
Annual visitors 1,560,981 (2017)[2]
Memberships AZA,[3] AAM,[4] WAZA[5]
Major exhibits Arctic Ring of Life, Australian Outback Adventure, Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness, Great Apes of Harambee, Holden Reptile Conservation Center, National Amphibian Conservation Center, Polk Penguin Conservation Center, Matilda Wilson Free-Flight Aviary

Detroit Zoological Park
Detroit Zoo is located in Michigan
Detroit Zoo
Detroit Zoo is located in the US
Detroit Zoo
Location 8450 W. Ten Mile Rd., Huntington Woods/Royal Oak, Michigan
Architect Shurtleff, Arthur A.; Hagenbeck, Heinrich
Architectural style Other, Zoo
NRHP reference # 90001226[6]
Added to NRHP August 24, 1990

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, United States. The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS), a non-profit organization, operates both the Detroit Zoo and the Belle Isle Nature Center, located in the city of Detroit. The Detroit Zoo is one of Michigan's largest family attractions, hosting more than 1.5 million visitors annually.[7][8][9] Situated on 125 acres of naturalistic exhibits, it provides a natural habitat for more than 2,000 animals representing 245 species.[8] The Detroit Zoo was the first zoo in the United States to use barless exhibits extensively.


Historical Marker at the main entrance.

The first Detroit Zoo opened in 1883 on Michigan and Trumbull Avenues (area south of Michigan bounded by Church Street and west of 10th Street (then known as Wesley Street)), across from the then site of Tiger Stadium. William Cameron Coup's circus had arrived in town, only to succumb to financial difficulties. Luther Beecher, a local businessman, 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 was converted into a horse auction site (the Michigan Avenue Horse Exchange).[10]

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.[11]

By 1930, 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 zoo in America with cage-less exhibits.[12]

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.[11]

In 1939, sculptor Corrado Parducci created the Horace Rackham Memorial Fountain, popularly known as "the Bear Fountain." The memorial was one of four major donations made by Mary Rackham in the memory of her late husband Horace, the other three being college buildings named after him in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan. From the 1950s through the early 1970s, local weatherman Sonny Eliot hosted a television program, At the Zoo, that was shown on Saturdays on television station WDIV.[13]

Until 1982, trained chimpanzees performed for visitors, but the act was discontinued at the insistence of animal rights activists. Also in 1982, the zoo began to charge an admission fee for the first time.[14]

The Arctic Ring of Life, North America's largest polar bear exhibit, opened to the public in 2001.[15][16] The Arctic Ring of Life exhibit is centered on a 300,000 gallon aquarium. The exhibit allows visitors to view the polar bears and seals from a 70-foot (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.[17][18] 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
Polar Bear at DZ.jpg

The zoo made additional news in 2005 when it became the first U.S. zoo to give up its elephants on ethical grounds,[19] 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.[20] The zoo had housed elephants since its opening. Former Detroit Zoo elephant Winky was euthanized in April 2008 at the PAWS sanctuary.[21] The former elephant exhibit was renovated, and is now home to two white rhinoceros, Jasiri and Tamba.[22]

Australian Outback Adventure opened in spring 2006, allowing visitors to walk through a 2-acre (0.81 ha) simulated Outback containing red kangaroos and red-necked wallabies. Nothing separates visitors from the marsupials, allowing the animals to hop freely onto the walking path.[23]

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 Zoo in Royal Oak and the Belle Isle Nature Center 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 provides long-term sustainable funding to supplement earned revenue and philanthropic support.

In 2011, the lions received a home makeover, which includes more than double the room to roam, new landscaping and a glass wall for a much closer encounter with visitors. The Detroit Zoo also has the Simulator Ride, as well as a 4-D Theater, plus the Tauber Family Railroad and a carousel. In 2013, the zoo celebrated their single largest donation ever ($10M) by announcing plans for the Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC) which opened in 2016.[24] The penguin center replaces the Penguinarium (which itself was revolutionary when it was built in 1968) and become the largest facility on Earth dedicated to the study of penguins. The Penguinarium is planned to be converted into a Bat Conservation Center since the penguin center has opened.[25]


Wazi - Howl - Winter - Roy Lewis.jpg
Drill and Gorilla .jpg
Bactrian camels Suren and Rusty

Wild Yak Conservation[edit]

Novus, the domestic yak, in the Barnyard Area.

The Detroit Zoological Society has worked to study and conserve wild yak and understand the relationships between domestic yak herders and wild yak on the Tibet/Qinghai plateau of China and the Himalayas of Nepal.


Saddle-billed stork sun bathing in the grass.
A southern screamer calling out.
Laughing kookaburra at the Detroit Zoo.
Blue-bellied roller in the Matilda Wilson Free Flight Aviary.


To help conserve endangered South African penguins, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) collects between 800 and 900 abandoned African penguin chicks and eggs every year for rehabilitation and release back into the wild. Funding from the Detroit Zoological Society has helped SANCCOB construct a nursery to house the larger penguin chicks.


Gila monster relaxing in the sand.
A Cuvier's dwarf caiman in the HRCC.
Shingle-back skink resting in its burrow.



National Amphibian Conservation Center[edit]

A very endangered Panamanian golden frog in the NACC.

The National Amphibian Conservation Center is a $7 million, 12,000-square-foot facility situated on a two-acre Michigan wetland area and pond called "Amphibiville". The exhibit, which opened in June 2000, has a diverse range of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians. The Wall Street Journal dubbed the attraction "Disneyland for toads".[26] The National Amphibian Conservation Center participates in research and conservation efforts for species including the Panamanian golden frog, Puerto Rican crested toad, and Wyoming toad.

In 2002, the Detroit Zoo was awarded the AZA National Exhibit Award for Amphibiville.[27]

The Arctic Ring of Life[edit]

Talini Swimming.jpg

The 4-acre Arctic Ring of Life, which opened in October 2001, is home to two polar bears, gray seals, harbor seal and arctic foxes. It is among North America's largest polar bear exhibits.

In 2003, the Detroit Zoo was awarded the AZA Significant Achievement Award for the Arctic Ring of Life.[27]

Cotton Family Wetlands and Boardwalk[edit]

Mimicking a Michigan ecosystem, the 1.7-acre pond and wetlands area and accompanying 7,200-square-foot boardwalk is home to native fish, frogs, turtles and birds as well as the zoo's trumpeter swans. The boardwalk itself is made from a 95-percent recycled wood-alternative decking material called Trex, composed primarily of plastic grocery bags and reclaimed hardwood. The Wetlands and Boardwalk are bounded by Amphibiville, the Warchol Beaver Habitat, the Mardigian River Otter Habitat, and the Holden Reptile Conservation Center.

Thanks to a $102,350 grant from NOAA, the Wetlands are also able to be used as professional development and outdoor classroom for teachers and students underrepresented in science fields.[28]

Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness[edit]

The Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness is a $1.4 million two-acre sanctuary that features native meadows and trees, a flowing stream and pond, dens, and elevated rock outcroppings from which two gray wolves survey their surroundings. The exhibit also incorporates a renovated historic log cabin which had existed on the property.[29]

Giraffe Encounter[edit]

At the Giraffe Encounter, guests are able to feed four giraffes from a balcony pavilion that extends into their habitat. This experience, which started in July 2007, runs daily from spring through fall.

The Great Apes of Harambee[edit]

The Great Apes of Harambee is a 4-acre indoor/outdoor habitat home to chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas and drills. The animals may be rotated into each other's exhibit spaces, as this simulates nomadic movement similar to wild behavior.[30]

Holden Reptile Conservation Center[edit]

The reticulated python in the HRCC
This water monitor was rescued from its owner, and now has a new home at the zoo.

Opened as the Holden Museum of Living Reptiles in 1960, the Holden Reptile Conservation Center is home to 240 reptiles representing 80 species, one-fifth of which are considered threatened or endangered in the wild. Among the species are

Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat[edit]

Zoo River Otters.jpg

The Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat provides a habitat for five river otters and features a 5,900-gallon pool complete with waterfall and waterslide. The pool is enclosed on one side by a glass wall, on the other side of which is an observation building. The habitat is designed so that visitors – including small children – can enjoy an eye-level view of the otters as they swim.

The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) can weigh 20-30 pounds, and its slender, cylindrical body can reach 2–3 feet in length. The aquatic mammal sports short, dense, waterproof fur and profuse whiskers. The playful river otter is swift on land as well as in the water, though its loping trot can look somewhat ungainly compared to its graceful slide through the water.

In March 2012, the population of three river otters was doubled when mother Whisker, 9, and father Lucius, 6, had three pups, one female and two male. This was the first otter pup birth at the Detroit Zoo in nearly 50 years.[31] Two more male pups were born to the same parents in April 2014.[32]


The Penguinarium was the first zoo building in the world designed entirely for penguins. The three-sided habitat includes underwater viewing and is surrounded by a continuous pool which allows the penguins to swim fast enough to porpoise or "fly through the water," a behavior frequently seen in the wild. The Detroit Zoo is one of the few zoos in the world to incorporate this design feature.

With the opening of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center in 2016, the Penguinarium closed and will be renovated into a bat conservation center.

Polk Penguin Conservation Center[edit]

Detroit Zoo-PPCC.jpg

The Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC), opened in April 2016. The Polk Penguin Conservation Center is the largest center for penguins in the world.

Jane and Frank Warchol Beaver Habitat[edit]

Opened in 2013, the Jane and Frank Warchol Beaver Habitat abuts the Cotton Family Wetlands, and is home to nine beavers. As beavers are nocturnal, their night-time activities are recorded and played throughout the day on televisions in the exhibit. This is the first time beavers have been on display at the Detroit Zoo since 1969.

The Wildlife Interpretive Gallery[edit]

The Wildlife Interpretive Gallery is home to the Butterfly Garden, Matilda Wilson Free-Flight Aviary, as well as DZS's permanent fine art collection.[33] Shelle Isle, an exhibit dedicated to the partula snail- a once-extinct animal the DZS is credited with saving.

Other highlights[edit]

Among other highlights at the Detroit Zoo are the Horace H. Rackham Memorial Fountain, the 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge Tauber Family Railroad, the Carousel, and the Ford Education Center which houses the Simulator Ride and 4-D Theater.[34]

The Detroit Zoological Society[edit]

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is a non-profit organization that operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. Its $40 million annual operating budget is supported by earned revenue, philanthropic support, and a tri-county (Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne) millage. The organization has 210 full and part-time employees, more than 65,000 member households, and more than 1,100 volunteers.[8]

Delivering on its mission of "Celebrating and Saving Wildlife", the DZS is a leader in animal conservation and welfare. In collaboration with the DNR and USFWS, the DZS continues to release Zoo-reared federally endangered Karner blue butterflies in their natural habitats in Michigan with the goal of reestablishing self-sustaining populations. Each summer, DZS bird keepers assist with conservation efforts in northern Michigan for the federally endangered Great Lakes piping plover by artificially incubating abandoned piping plover eggs. Most recently, the DZS, in collaboration with the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, established of a common tern nesting site on Belle Isle.[35]

The Detroit Zoological Society is frequently asked to help with the rescue of exotic animals from private owners, pseudo-sanctuaries, roadside zoos, and circuses. Among the DZS's rescues are more than 1,000 exotic animals confiscated from an animal wholesaler in Texas, a polar bear that was confiscated from a circus in Puerto Rico, a lioness that was used to guard a crack house, and retired racehorses. In addition, the Detroit Zoological Society and Michigan Humane Society, in collaboration with dozens of local animal welfare organizations, host Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo, the nation's largest offsite companion animal adoption program. Since the event's inception in 1993, more than 24,000 dogs, cats, and rabbits have been placed into new homes at the spring and fall events.[36]

The Center for Zoo Animal Welfare (CZAW) was created in 2009 as a resource center for captive exotic animal welfare knowledge and best practices. It provides a much-needed forum for exotic animal welfare policy discussion/debate and recognizes captive exotic animal welfare initiatives through awards.[37]

The DZS offers education programs year-round for kids, families, youth and scouting groups, classrooms, teachers, and homeschoolers, serving more than 35,000 students annually through education programs and approximately 120,000 more through field trips. In addition, the DZS raises over $170,000 annually to help Peruvian village schools through the Adopt-A-School program. The Berman Academy for Humane Education offers a broad range of unique and engaging programs that help people help animals. The Academy utilizes a variety of teaching strategies – from traditional instruction to storytelling, role-playing, theater, and virtual technology – to educate audiences about the need to treat other living creatures with empathy, respect, and gentleness.[38]

Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums,[3] the Detroit Zoo features many award-winning exhibits including the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery, National Amphibian Conservation Center, Great Apes of Harambee and Arctic Ring of Life,[8] which was named the number-two best zoo exhibit in the U.S. by the Intrepid Traveler's guide to "America's Best Zoos".

The Simulator Ride is an educational, action-packed thrill ride which offers an exciting you-are-there experience from the comfort of a specially equipped motion-simulated big-screen theater seat. The 126-seat 4-D Theater, the only theater of its kind at any Michigan zoo, delivers a high-definition viewing experience in 3-D with 7.1 digital audio surround sound, enhanced with full-sensory 4-D special effects such as blasts of wind, mist and scents.[39]

The Detroit Zoo is located at the intersection of 10 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak, Mich.[40] It is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April through Labor Day (until 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays during July and August), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the day after Labor Day through October and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. November through March (closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day).[41] Admission is $14 for adults 15 to 61, $10 for senior citizens 62 and older, and $10 for children ages 2 to 14; children under 2 are free.[35]

Belle Isle Nature Center[edit]

The Belle Isle Nature Center sits on a 5-acre site surrounded by undisturbed forested wetlands on Belle Isle State Park in Detroit. The facility features indoor animal habitats, a bee exhibit, bird observation window, outdoor native butterfly garden, outdoor classrooms, nature play area and the Blue Heron Lagoon nature trail. It provides year-round educational, recreational and environmental conservation opportunities for the community.

Photo gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Zoo Facts". Detroit Zoo. Retrieved 2015-02-21.
  2. ^ Nagl, Kurt (January 4, 2018). "More Than 1.5 million Visit Detroit Zoo in 2017, Down Slightly from Record 2016". Crain Communications. Archived from the original on January 5, 2018. Retrieved May 19, 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved February 18, 2011.
  4. ^ "Find a Museum Member". AAM. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  5. ^ "Zoos and Aquariums of the World". WAZA. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  6. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  7. ^ "Detroit Zoo Annual Report 2007-2009" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-06-26. External link in |website= (help)
  8. ^ a b c d "Facts About the Detroit Zoo". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  9. ^ "Detroit Zoo Sets New Attendance Record".
  10. ^ Austin, William (1974). The First Fifty Years. Detroit Zoological Society.
  11. ^ a b Houston, Kay (February 24, 1999). "How the Detroit Zoo's first day was almost its last". Detroit News. Retrieved July 9, 2007.
  12. ^ "Wayne County – A Brief History". Archived from the original on August 26, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  13. ^ "WWJ Newsradio 950 Our Staff". Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  14. ^ Wonders Among Us: Celebrating 75 Years of the Detroit Zoo. Royal Oak, MI: Detroit Zoological Society. 2003. p. 91. ISBN 0-615-12418-6.
  15. ^ PR NEWS WIRE (October 20, 2001). The World's Largest Polar Bear Exhibit Opens at the Detroit Zoo. United Business Media.
  16. ^ Detroit Zoological Society (2001).
  17. ^ "Arctic Ring of Life page 1". Archived from the original on June 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-05.
  18. ^ "Arctic Ring of Life page 2". Archived from the original on July 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-05.
  19. ^ Zoo sends its elephants packing Detroit Zoo. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  20. ^ Elephants (April 8, 2005).Detroit Free Press.
  21. ^ Detroit Zoo Elephant Winky Dies, Detroit Zoo, April 7, 2008.
  22. ^ Rhinos. Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  23. ^ Outback AdventureDetroit Zoological Society. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  24. ^ Polk Penguin Conservation Center
  25. ^ Bat Conservation Center reference
  26. ^ "National Amphibian Conservation Center". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  27. ^ a b "Exhibit Award". Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  28. ^ "Under the Boardwalk, a World of Wildlife Awaits". Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  29. ^ "Detroit Zoo Opens Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness". Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  30. ^ "African Forest". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  31. ^ "The Joy of Six". Detroit Zoo. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  32. ^ "You Otter See What's New at the Detroit Zoo". Detroit Zoo. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  33. ^ "Attractions". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  34. ^ a b "Prices". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  35. ^ "Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  36. ^ "CZAW". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  37. ^ "Detroit Zoo Education". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  38. ^ "Wild Adventure Ride". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  39. ^ "Directions to the Zoo". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  40. ^ "Hours". Retrieved 2012-06-26.

References and further reading[edit]

  • 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 0-615-12410-0.
  • Fisher, Dale (2003). Building Michigan: A Tribute to Michigan's Construction Industry. Grass Lake, MI: Eyry of the Eagle Publishing. ISBN 1-891143-24-7.
  • 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.

External links[edit]