Detroit Zoo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Detroit Zoo
The Horace Rackham Memorial Fountain by Corrado Parducci
Date opened 1883; August 1, 1928
Location Royal Oak, Michigan, United States
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]
Number of animals 3,300+
Number of species 280
Annual visitors 1,363,949 (2014)[2]
Memberships AZA,[3] AAM,[4] WAZA[5]
Major exhibits Amphibiville, Arctic Ring of Life, Australian Outback Adventure, Great Apes of Harambee, Holden Museum of Living Reptiles, Penguinarium, Wilson Free Flight Aviary

Detroit Zoological Park
Location 8450 W. Ten Mile Rd., Huntington Woods/Royal Oak, Michigan
Architectural style Other, Zoo
Governing body Local
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 Zoo, located in the city of Detroit. The Detroit Zoo is one of Michigan’s largest family attractions, hosting more than 1.1 million visitors annually.[7][8] Situated on 125 acres of naturalistic exhibits, it provides a natural habitat for more than 2,500 animals representing 270 species.[7] 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, 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[10]

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.[12]

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.[13]

The Arctic Ring of Life, North America's largest polar bear exhibit, opened to the public in 2001.[14][15] The Arctic Ring of Life exhibit is centered around 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.[16][17] 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,[18] 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.[19] The zoo had housed elephants since its opening. Former Detroit Zoo elephant Winky was euthanized in April 2008 at the PAWS sanctuary.[20] The former elephant exhibit was renovated, and is now home to two white rhinoceros, Jasiri and Tamba.[21]

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.[22]

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 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 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 Wild Adventure Ride (simulator), as well as a 3D and "4D" (3D with motion) theater, plus a miniature railroad and a carousel. In 2013 the zoo celebrated their single largest donation ever ($10M) by announcing plans for The Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center (PCC) which would open in 2015.[23] The PCC would replace 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 once the PCC is open.[24]


American marten[edit]

Because of overharvest for their furs and habitat loss from timber harvest, American martens were extirpated from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (LP) by the early 1900s. In 1986, the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) reintroduced martens to the Manistee National Forest in the LP. Since 2013 the Detroit Zoological Society has collaborated with Grand Valley State University, USFS, MDNR and members of the Ottawa tribe to study this reintroduced population. A member of the weasel family, martens are important to many Native Americans in the Great Lakes region, and for the Ottawa tribe the marten is symbolic of warriors and messengers. The goals of this project are to study the success of marten reintroduction and to see if any habitat management can be done to improve it. Martens are fitted with radio collars to track them and better understand their ranging and habitat use as well as the location of dens used by female martens. Motion-triggered camera traps are then used to monitor dens and the survival of young martens.

Red panda/snow leopard[edit]

The Detroit Zoological Society collaborates with the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, the Kunming Institute of Zoology, and the China Exploration & Research Society to study and conserve red pandas, snow leopards and other alpine fauna in China and Nepal. This work uses trail cameras triggered by motion and heat to take pictures of animals and remotely monitor populations of red pandas as well as snow leopards and their prey. Herders are also interviewed to learn more about human-wildlife conflict from snow leopard predation of livestock and to find ways to reduce this conflict.

Snow Leopard Trust[edit]

The Detroit Zoological Society further enhances snow leopard conservation by providing financial support to the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT). The SLT strives to create sustainable conservation programs that benefit snow leopards and local communities that share the mountain habitats. It works in five of the 12 countries that have snow leopards (China, India, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan) where it has established programs to compensate herders for livestock killed by snow leopards and to generate income for herders involved in snow leopard conservation programs. These programs involve snow leopard monitoring and removing livestock from certain areas to increase populations of natural snow leopard prey such as blue sheep.

Polar bear/grizzly bear[edit]

The Detroit Zoological Society collaborates with the United States Geological Survey, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the village of Kaktovik in field research about the overlap in resource use between polar bears and grizzly bears on the north slope of Alaska. Such overlap is increasing as both bear species shift their ranges in response to climate change. For example, decreasing sea ice forces polar bears to spend more time onshore while the berries and prey of grizzlies are shifting north with warmer temperatures. The Inupiat population at Kaktovik hunts three bowhead whales per year for subsistence, and both bear species have been observed scavenging on the whale carcasses. This scavenging will likely become more and more important for both bear species in the future. DZS also supports critical field research on polar bears at Wrangel Island, in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Russia. In the Chukchi Sea polar bears move freely across the international border between the U.S. and Russia, using both countries during important parts of their life history, and Wrangel Island contains one of the highest known concentrations of polar bear cubbing dens. Concurrent research in both countries is needed to understand the status of the entire population. Information on population status and habitat use of this important international population is urgently needed to better understand how polar bears are faring as a result of climate change and increasing human use of bear habitat.

Grevy’s Zebra Trust[edit]

The Detroit Zoological Society provides financial support for the Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT) to help conserve Grevy’s zebras. The fates of Grevy’s zebra and human livelihoods are inextricably linked to the fragile ecosystem that they inhabit. As a result, GZT works closely with the community rangelands of Kenya and Ethiopia to monitor and protect endangered Grevy’s zebras. GZT has education and awareness programs for pastoral children as well as rangeland rehabilitation programs that focus on planned livestock grazing. The success and sustainability of Grevy’s zebra conservation is thus critically dependent on having the commitment of communities living across its range. In 2012, GZT was awarded the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) International Conservation Award.

Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education[edit]

The Detroit Zoological Society has made a major commitment to support the gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) organization in their work to conserve Grauer’s gorillas or eastern lowland gorillas. Grauer’s gorillas are closely related to the western lowland gorillas at the Detroit Zoo but they are much more endangered. Grauer’s gorillas are hunted for their meat and sold as pets and further threatened by the civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). GRACE’s mission is to provide the best facilities and care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas in the DRC while working alongside local communities to ensure gorilla survival in the wild.


Trumpeter swan[edit]

Trumpeter swans are endangered in the Great Lakes primarily because they are outcompeted by mute swans which were introduced from Europe and are less sensitive to human disturbance. The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) worked with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station from 1985 to 2006 to reintroduce trumpeter swans to northern Michigan. DZS raised 66 trumpeter swan cygnets at the Detroit Zoo and the former Belle Isle Zoo for release to sites in northern Michigan.

Polar Oceans Research Group[edit]

The Detroit Zoological Society has provided financial support for the Polar Oceans Research Group led by Dr. Bill Fraser, whose group is part of the long term ecological research (LTER) program that for over two decades has tracked changes in the ecosystem around Palmer Station on the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). Unsustainable resource use, especially the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal has altered the climate; these changes are most profound in Antarctica, the Arctic and high altitude regions. In fact, WAP is one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet and average temperatures have increased 13 degrees F in the past 50 years. These rising temperatures have led to reduction in sea ice, retreat of glaciers, and more snowfall. The Palmer LTER program has monitored the effects of these environmental changes on populations of Adelie penguins, gentoo penguins, and chinstrap penguins as well as their predators such as giant petrels and their prey such as krill (small shrimp-like crustaceans). The decline in sea ice has led to less krill and Adelie penguins which are dependent on sea ice and more gentoo and chinstrap penguins which do not rely on sea ice. A primary objective of the LTER program has been to understand the reasons behind the decline of Adelie penguins. The research has demonstrated that this decline is not only because of less prey but also because of the declining quality of breeding grounds due to increased snow cover. The LTER will continue studying changes in the ecosystem at WAP and how the different penguin species and other wildlife react. Gentoo penguins are present at both WAP and at the Detroit Zoo’s Penguinarium and future Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC), and Dr. Fraser has served as technical advisor for the PPCC. He has focused on how PPCC can highlight the plight of the Antarctic and humans’ negative influence on this faraway place.

Falklands conservation[edit]

The Falklands Islands (Las Malvinas) off the southern coast of Argentina are critical habitat for penguins and contain the largest breeding population of gentoo penguins (about 100,000 breeding pairs). The Detroit Zoological Society has funded the work of Falklands Conservation, an organization which monitors and conducts research on the penguins and other wildlife at several island sites. This research helps to conserve penguin species on exhibit at the Detroit Zoo’s Penguinarium and the future Polk Penguin Conservation Center including king penguins, southern rockhopper penguins, gentoo penguins, and macaroni penguins. For example, some of the research uses satellite tracking and geo-locators to identify critical winter feeding areas for king penguins and southern rockhopper penguins.

Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels[edit]

The Detroit Zoological Society provides funds to support the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels research on Magellanic penguins in Argentina and Galapagos penguins of the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. These temperate penguin species – marine sentinels for southern oceans – demonstrate that new challenges are confronting their populations. For example, The Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels has demonstrated that Magellanic penguins are swimming 36 miles farther north from their nests during incubation than they did a decade ago. This very likely reflects shifts in prey in response to climate change and reductions in prey abundance caused by commercial fishing. The Center has also shown that increased rain has adversely affected the breeding success of Magellenic penguins. Furthermore, the Center has documented that the Galapagos penguin population has declined by about 75% since 1972 because of variations in the surface temperatures of the eastern Pacific Ocean that are increasing in strength and frequency. The warm temperature cycles are known as El Ninos and they are particularly difficult for Galapagos penguins. The current Galapagos penguin population may be as low as 1,500 individuals making them the rarest of all penguin species.


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.


McCord’s Box Turtle SSP[edit]

The McCord’s box turtle is a critically endangered species from China. McCord’s box turtles have been hunted for meat, traditional medicine and a worldwide trade in turtles as pets. These factors, coupled with habitat loss due to the expansion of human populations, have pushed them to the brink of extinction. McCord’s box turtles are now rarely seen in Chinese markets, one way of monitoring populations, and this may mean the species is extinct in the wild. The DZS is the manager and studbook keeper for the McCord’s Box Turtle SSP to help maintain an assurance population of these turtles in zoos. If protected areas in China can be identified in the future it is hoped that some McCord’s box turtles from the HRCC can someday be re-introduced to the wild.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake SSP[edit]

Since 2009, the DZS has coordinated the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake SSP with Northern Illinois University and several zoos to determine abundance and establish a long-term monitoring program for these rattlesnakes in southwest Michigan. In addition, eastern massasauga rattlesnakes at the HRCC are part of a captive breeding program with partner institutions to build an assurance population. Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are listed as a species of special concern by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and they are protected by state law. The program also includes the development of educational materials about massasauga rattlesnakes for zoos and nature centers in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio to help people understand that massasaugas are not as venomous as other rattlesnakes and in fact provide beneficial services like controlling rodent populations.

Siamese Crocodile SSP[edit]

Siamese crocodiles formerly occurred over much of Southeast Asia. However, growing human populations have destroyed much of their habitat, and their current distribution is greatly fragmented. Siamese crocodiles are also threatened by over-hunting, and they are now the world’s second most endangered crocodile. As part of the Siamese Crocodile SSP, 11 individuals hatched at the HRCC in 2015 are part of an ongoing reintroduction program to restore and bolster wild populations in protected areas of Southeast Asia.

Aruba Island Rattlesnake SSP[edit]

The Aruba island rattlesnake is native to the island of Aruba in the southern Caribbean Sea near Venezuela. Habitat degradation, especially for tourism development, has reduced the Aruba Island rattlesnake population to fewer than approximately 200 individuals in the wild, and it is considered critically endangered. The DZS provides financial support to the Aruba Island Rattlesnake SSP to help restore habitat on Aruba, and as part of the SSP, Aruba rattlesnakes are often housed at the HRCC.


Peruvian rainforest frogs[edit]

Since 2010, the Detroit Zoological Society has been involved in an assessment of amphibian populations in the Peruvian Amazon. The project includes field surveys to document species living in several sites along the Amazon and Napo rivers and testing for chytridiomycosis (chytrid Bd), an amphibian disease that is wiping out amphibian populations throughout South America and other parts of the world. People living in and around the study sites assist with conducting surveys so they can be a part of conserving their unique and fragile environmental heritage.

Education is also a critical component of this project. Local people around the study sites learn that amphibians are important components of the ecosystem by eating insects and serving as food for other animals and that they are important bio-indicators that reflect the health of the environment. Education about amphibians also dispels myths about amphibians, such as the myth that humans can contract diseases from toads. Changing erroneous and harmful attitudes about animals is a critical step in saving amphibians and other wildlife.

Puerto Rican Crested Toad SSP[edit]

As part of the Puerto Rican Crested Toad SSP, the DZS and the NACC breed critically endangered Puerto Rican crested toads. Since 2008 more than 47,000 tadpoles have been released into the wild.

Panamanian Golden Frogs SSP[edit]

As part of the Panamanian Golden Frog SSP, the DZS and the NACC maintain an “assurance population” of this critically endangered species. The captive population serves as insurance against extinction until the species can be adequately protected in the wild and suitable locations are found for release


Since 2006, the Detroit Zoological Society has monitored mudpuppies in the Detroit River to track and better understand the population size and health of local mudpuppies. The aquatic salamanders are measured, weighed and implanted with computer chips for identification before being returned to the river. The Detroit River’s water chemistry is also tested and logged. The data gathered provide a valuable baseline for monitoring the health of the Detroit River ecosystem. Mudpuppies are important environmental watchdogs that visitors to the Detroit Zoo and the Belle Isle Nature Zoo can observe and learn about.

FrogWatch USA[edit]

FrogWatch USA is a national citizen science program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for monitoring local frog and toad populations. The amphibian staff of the Detroit Zoological Society train citizen scientists to collect data about Michigan frogs and toads by identifying their calls. These data are then included in the national AZA database as well as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources herp atlas to help monitor the distribution and population trends for frogs and toads. If you are interested in contributing to frog and toad conservation from your backyard to across Michigan, join the local monitoring team. Training opportunities occur every February and March, and updated training dates can be obtained by emailing Rebecca Johnson, associate curator of amphibians.



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, boasts a spectacular diversity of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians. The Wall Street Journal dubbed the attraction “Disneyland for toads”.[25] 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 addition to amphibian space, the center includes a rainforest immersion room which houses a sloth, Central American agouti, red-footed tortoise, ocellated stingray, mata mata, qand Pterygoplichthys pardalis, all of which roam the exhibit space freely with visitors.

In 2002, the Detroit Zoo was awarded the AZA National Exhibit Award for Amphibiville.[26]

The Arctic Ring of Life[edit]

In addition to polar bears, the exhibit is home to grey seal, harbor seal, and Arctic fox with available exhibit space for snowy owl or Arctic hare in Arctic Ring of Life, which opened in October 2001, is North America’s largest polar bear exhibit. The $14 million four-acre interactive facility features the Frederick and Barbara Erb Polar Passage, where visitors walk through a 70-foot-long clear underwater tunnel as polar bears and seals may swim around them.

In 2003, the Detroit Zoo was awarded the AZA Significant Achievement Award for the Arctic Ring of Life.[26]

Australian Outback Adventure[edit]

The Australian Outback Adventure is home to a mob of 20 kangaroos and their close cousins, the red-necked wallabies. Visitors can get face-to-face with the marsupials from right inside this immersive habitat, traveling along a winding path while the animals are free to bound and graze wherever they please.

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.[27]

Cotton Family Wolf Habitat[edit]

The Cotton Family Wolf Habitat 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.[28]


Debuting in 1993, Dinosauria! has been an annual summertime attraction including 40 animatronic dinosaurs on three acres. It is the nation's largest animatronic dinosaur exhibit.

Giraffe Encounter[edit]

At the Giraffe Encounter, guests are able to feed three 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 four-acre indoor/outdoor habitat which houses 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.[29]

Holden Reptile Conservation Center[edit]

Opened as the Holden Museum of Living Reptiles in 1960, the Holden Reptile Conservation Center is home to 180 reptiles representing 70 species, one-fifth of which are considered threatened or endangered in the wild. Among the species are

Among the more dramatic features of the center is the habitat of an 18-foot female reticulated python. The centerpiece of the 20-by-8-by-8 foot space is a large stone head deity – created by Detroit Zoo reptile keeper David Blanchard – fashioned after temple idols found at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The enclosure also features a variety of plants and trees to offer the python the sanctuary she would find in her native habitat as well as a basking pool that provides underwater viewing for visitors.

Mardigian River Otter Habitat[edit]

The Edward Mardigian, Sr. River Otter Habitat provides a habitat for five river otters and features an 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 small children can view the otters at eye level as they swim.

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.[30] Two additional male pups were born to the same parents in April 2014.[31]


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.

The three-sided Penguinarium was renovated in 1985 to incorporate features of the natural environments in which the zoo's three species of penguins occur. The temperature of the air and water is kept between 45 and 50 degrees F. The light cycle is controlled to resemble the natural photoperiod that the birds would experience in the wild which helps regulate molting and breeding behaviors.

The Detroit Zoo houses four species of penguin in the Penguinarium, king, macaroni, and rockhopper. A fourth species, gentoo, was introduced in 2014 in preparation for the move to the Polk Penguin Conservation Center.

Polk Penguin Conservation Center[edit]

The Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC), which is scheduled to open in early 2016, is the largest project the Detroit Zoo has ever undertaken. Features of the $29.5 million facility will include a penguin “deep dive” with views above and below water as the birds are able to dive and porpoise through a chilled 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area.[32] The PPCC, which is named after the single largest donation ever received by the zoo ($10M),[23] will be the largest facility in the world dedicated to the study of penguins.

Warchol Beaver Habitat[edit]

Opened in 2013, the Warchol Beaver Habitat abuts the Cotton Family Wetlands, and is home to two beavers and a large school of trout. 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, Wilson Free Flight Aviary, a 90-seat theater, and the zoo’s permanent fine art collection.[33]

In addition, a 3D theatre experience called Science on a Sphere is located in the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery. Developed by NOAA, Science On a Sphere is a spherical display system that projects dynamic simulations of the Earth, its atmosphere, oceans, and land using computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a 6-foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. The Detroit Zoo was the second zoo in the country to implement this exhibit as a permanent attraction.

Butterfly Garden[edit]

The Butterfly Garden is a tropical indoor habitat featuring hundreds of butterflies from Central and South America. With 25 species represented, the Detroit Zoo purchases roughly 250 pupae weekly from butterfly farmers such that no insects are taken from the wild.

Wilson Free Flight Aviary[edit]

The Matilda Wilson Free-Flight Aviary is a tropical indoor home to over 30 species of birds where they are able to fly, walk, or swim freely. Among the species present are

Sections of the zoo[edit]

African Forest[edit]

Located near the Arctic Café on the northwest side of the zoo, the African Forest is home to several species of must-see African natives, including the residents of the Great Apes of Harambee – chimpanzees, gorillas and drills – and birds such as crowned cranes, flamingos, spoonbills and vultures.

African Grasslands[edit]

The African Grasslands in the zoo’s northwest corner provides an environment for learning about the diverse, adaptable species of the vast African Savannah. Warthogs help tell the story of this important biome, and are joined by the reticulated giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, white rhinoceroses, lions, African birds and aardvarks.

Asian Forest[edit]

Located on the north side of the zoo near the Red Panda Picnic Site, the Asian Forest is home to red pandas, Amur tigers, Japanese macaques and lion-tailed macaques.

Australian Outback Adventure[edit]

The Australian Outback Adventure is home to a mob of 20 kangaroos and their close cousins, the red-necked wallabies. Visitors can get face-to-face with the marsupials from right inside this immersive habitat, traveling along a winding path while the animals are free to bound and graze wherever they please.

The Arctic Ring of Life[edit]

The Arctic Ring of Life is one of North America’s largest polar bear habitats, and it is also home to Arctic foxes and seals. This state-of-the-art, interactive facility encompasses more than 4 acres of outdoor and indoor spaces.

In 2003, the Detroit Zoo was awarded the AZA Significant Achievement Award for the Arctic Ring of Life.[26]

American Grasslands[edit]

The American Grasslands runs along the southwest border of the zoo, and features fascinating animals from both North and South America, including the Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness, grizzly bears, the Barn, prairie dogs, anteaters, wolverines, bald eagles and Chilean flamingos.

Conservation Campus[edit]

This section of the zoo includes the famous Penguinarium, National Amphibian Conservation Center, Holden Reptile Conservation Center, Matilda Free Flight Aviary, Butterfly House, Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat, Wildlife Interpretive Gallery,

Other highlights[edit]

Among other highlights at the Detroit Zoo are the iconic 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 Wild Adventure Ride and the Wild Adventure 3-D/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 Zoo. Its $30 million annual 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 51,000 member households, and more than 1,100 volunteers.[7]

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 17,000 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,[7] 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 Wild Adventure 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 Wild Adventure 3-D/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 am to 5 pm April through Labor Day (until 8 pm Wednesdays during July and August), 10 a.m. to 5 pm the day after Labor Day through October and 10 am to 4 pm November through March (closed 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 Zoo[edit]

The Belle Isle Nature Zoo (BINZ)[42] encompasses approximately 4 acres (1.6 ha) of undisturbed forested wetland on Belle Isle in Detroit, Mich. The Nature Zoo provides year-round educational, recreational and environmental conservation opportunities for the community.

A Deer Encounter, where fallow deer that once roamed the island can be fed by visitors, is part of a multi-phase project to convert the former nature center on Belle Isle into a Nature Zoo focusing on Michigan wildlife, flora and fauna. The Nature Zoo also includes a renovated auditorium, a turtle exhibit featuring native Michigan turtles, an indoor beehive allowing year-round viewing of bee behavior, a spider exhibit and a Creation Station for children’s educational programming.[41][43]

Future plans for the Nature Zoo include more nature trails, small mammal exhibits, aquatic life exhibits, a wetland pond and an amphitheater.


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), lions rescued from a junkyard in Kansas (2009) and grizzly bear cubs orphaned in Alaska after their mother was shot by a poacher (2011). 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, Puerto Rican crested toad, and Wyoming toad. The Center for Zoo Animal Welfare (CZAW) was created in 2009 as a resource center for captive exotic animal welfare knowledge and best practices.

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, wallabies, sloth 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.

Photo gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Zoo Facts". Detroit Zoo. Retrieved 2015-02-21. 
  2. ^ Associated Press. "Detroit Zoo tops 1 million visitors in 2014". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "List of 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. ^ Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Facts About the Detroit Zoo". Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  8. ^ "Detroit Zoo Annual Report 2007-2009" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  9. ^ Austin, William (1974). The First Fifty Years. Detroit Zoological Society.
  10. ^ a b Houston, Kay (February 24, 1999). "How the Detroit Zoo's first day was almost its last". Detroit News. Retrieved July 9, 2007. 
  11. ^ "Wayne County – A Brief History". Archived from the original on August 26, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  12. ^ "WWJ Newsradio 950 Our Staff". Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  13. ^ Wonders Among Us: Celebrating 75 Years of the Detroit Zoo. Royal Oak, MI: Detroit Zoological Society. 2003. p. 91. ISBN 0-615-12418-6. 
  14. ^ PR NEWS WIRE (October 20, 2001). The World's Largest Polar Bear Exhibit Opens at the Detroit Zoo. United Business Media.
  15. ^ Detroit Zoological Society (2001).
  16. ^ "Arctic Ring of Life page 1". Archived from the original on June 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-05. 
  17. ^ "Arctic Ring of Life page 2". Archived from the original on July 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-05. 
  18. ^ sends its elephants packing. Detroit Zoo. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  19. ^ Elephants (April 8, 2005).Detroit Free Press.
  20. ^ Detroit Zoo Elephant Winky Dies, Detroit Zoo, April 7, 2008.
  21. ^ Rhinos. Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  22. ^ Outback AdventureDetroit Zoological Society. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  23. ^ a b Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center
  24. ^ Bat Conservation Center reference
  25. ^ "National Amphibian Conservation Center". Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  26. ^ a b c "Exhibit Award". Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  27. ^ "Under the Boardwalk, a World of Wildlife Awaits". Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  28. ^ "Detroit Zoo Opens Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness". Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  29. ^ "African Forest". Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  30. ^ "The Joy of Six". Detroit Zoo. Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  31. ^ "You Otter See What's New at the Detroit Zoo". Detroit Zoo. Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  32. ^ "Penguin Conservation Center". 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. ^ a b "Hours". Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  41. ^ "About the Belle Isle Nature Zoo". Belle Isle Nature Zoo. Detroit Zoological Society. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  42. ^ "Belle Isle Nature Zoo". 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]