John Ball Zoological Garden

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John Ball Zoological Garden
John Ball Zoo logo.gif
Date opened1891[1]
LocationGrand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
Coordinates42°57′46.02″N 85°42′17.24″W / 42.9627833°N 85.7047889°W / 42.9627833; -85.7047889Coordinates: 42°57′46.02″N 85°42′17.24″W / 42.9627833°N 85.7047889°W / 42.9627833; -85.7047889
Land area140 acres (57 ha)
No. of animals2000+[2]
No. of species238

John Ball Zoological Garden is an urban park located on the west side of the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States. The John Ball Zoo is situated on the ravines and bluffs along the west edge of the park.

The zoo houses a variety of animals from around the world and is a significant regional attraction. With the Zoo School and Wildlife Conservation Fund, the zoo gives something back to the community and world as a whole.

The zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and was the first zoo in Michigan to receive accreditation.


Early history[edit]

Statue of John Ball in Grand Rapids.

The original 40 acres (160,000 m2) of the park was donated to the city by noted pioneer and explorer John Ball upon his death in 1884. Shortly after, another 100 acres (0.40 km2) would be added and this marked the beginning of additional amenities, including ponds, a theater, a band shell, playgrounds, ball fields, trails, and the zoo. City commission records provide the first mention of animals at the park in 1891, when there was a debate about whether city money should be used to purchase more animals to add to the existing wounded and orphaned animals at the park.[1]

During the Great Depression, the zoo fell on hard times. Most of the collection was given away to other zoos. The buffalo and deer were butchered to help feed the poor. Only a few aging animals remained.

Rebirth of the zoo[edit]

During 1949, Katherine Whinery approached the mayor of Grand Rapids about resurrecting the zoo by forming a zoo society. A deal was formed that if a zoo society could be formed, the city would hire a zoo director to run the zoo. Fred Meyer was hired as the first director of the zoo. Construction of the Monkey Island Exhibit, the first major exhibit ever built,[4] was started in 1949 with an opening date of June 1, 1950.[5] During the 50-60s, John Ball Zoo was built in the hills of the park.[1]

Recent history[edit]

Chimps in the Mokomboso Valley Chimpanzee Exhibit.

The John Ball Park and Zoo were operated by the City of Grand Rapids until 1989, when the park, known as a regional asset because of the zoo, was sold to Kent County. Kent County continues to operate and maintain the park and zoo.

During the 1990s, the zoo expanded with the building of Living Shores Aquarium, which is one of two aquariums in the state of Michigan, and a new cafe eating area outside of it. Also done at the same time was a new bald eagle aviary. The Mokomboso Valley Chimpanzee Exhibit opened in 2001.

From 2000 to 2003, controversy arose over idea of moving the zoo further in to the flatlands of the park for an elephant exhibit. It pitted the zoo and zoo society against the neighbors of the park. The neighbors tried to get the city of Grand Rapids to designate the whole zoo and park as an historical site as one way to stop the further development of the zoo. In order to stop the arguing, Fred Meijer offered to donate land and money if the zoo would move.[6][7]

In 2004, a ballot was put forward to voters in Kent County to relocate the John Ball Zoological Gardens; the referendum was defeated, and the zoo will remain at its current location for the foreseeable future.

Bongo rests in the shade in the African Veldt Exhibit.

In 2005, a new 75-100 million dollar master plan for the zoo was made involving all 140 acres (57 ha) of the zoo and park. Besides the existing camels, African veld, chimps, petting zoo, and animal hospital exhibits, it reworks the whole zoo.[8] The new plan for the zoo features a system of streams named "Grand Rivers of the World" that would connect the zoo to the park surrounding the zoo.[9]

On April 27, 2007, the zoo broke ground on the first phase of the new master plan, starting construction of a 4.1 million dollar 0.3-acre (1,200 m2) "BISSELL Lions of Lake Manyara" exhibit. The zoo has not had a lion since "Gilda", their last lion, died of old age in 2005. The exhibit was built for six lions, but only three were placed in the exhibit.[10][11]

On June 21, 2008, the new green[12] lion exhibit was open to the public.[13]

Stingrays in the Stingray Lagoon.

Kent County including in the 2008-2009 Capital Improvement Allocation half the cost of renovation of the Monkey Island Exhibit. The other half of renovation is supposed to come from the zoo society.[4] As expected the spider monkeys roamed the new island in May 2009.[5] The waist high concrete wall that surround the exhibit will be removed. The cement floor and rocks of the exhibit and moat will be removed and replaced with grass and more natural looking rocks.[14]

On July 8, 2016, the stingray lagoon exhibit was closed after all 18 cownose stingrays and 3 spotted bamboo sharks died due to a mechanical malfunction. A heavy rainstorm, which shorted a pump circuit, was blamed for the deaths. The backup system intended to alert zoo officials of a pump failure also failed.[15]

Inclined railway[edit]

In August 2012, an inclined railway was opened at the zoo. A train of three cars linked together provides a four-minute ride to the upper areas of the park. The zoo calls it a funicular, but technically it is in the category of inclined elevator since there are not two vehicles (or trains in this case) that counterbalance each other. In either case the configuration as a three-car train rather than one car makes it an unusual example.[16]

Animal collection[edit]

Species Individuals
44 mammals 150
58 birds 219
42 reptiles 80
11 amphibians 26
35 fish 318
48 invertebrates 391
238 total species 1184 total animals

Most animals at John Ball Zoo were born in another zoo. Few of the animals are taken from the wild. Almost all the wild animals are at the zoo because they sustained injuries and can no longer live in their natural habitat.[17]

In 2004, the zoo added a Komodo dragon named Precious. Precious is on exhibit outside the Natural Treasures building during summer, and inside during the fall, winter, and spring.

During 2005, the zoo created an Australian walk-through exhibit that featured wallabies and budgies. The wallabies, if they want to, can come out in the walk way to be petted.

On May 9, 2007, the river otters had a baby boy. It first went out in the exhibit mid-July.[18]

In early September, the female black-footed cat had two kittens.[19]

The ring-tailed lemur exhibit was started in March 2009 and came out in May.

In 2010, the zoo brought in a troop of Guinea baboons, the largest alligator outside of Florida, moved their flamingos to another pond, and altered the old tiger exhibit to hold a rock hyrax and a group of colobus monkeys.

In 2021, John Ball Zoo announced that a new habitat at the entrance of the zoo was in the process of being built for pygmy hippos, the exhibit will also be home to the sitatunga and white stork. The exhibit is planned to open in 2023. And, in 2022, John Ball Zoo will host two male koalas from the San Diego Zoo Global Education and Conservation Project. After they arrived, their exhibit opened in May 11 2022.[20][21]

Education and conservation[edit]


John Ball Zoo School is a sixth grade only Magnet School for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Each year, sixty students are selected for the school.[22] The school teaches the normal Grand Rapids Public Schools curriculum but with a specialization using the zoo as a lab. The John Ball Zoo school has extra curricular studies and admission is based mostly on students' MEAP scores. The students are required to complete large projects, including studying current events and environmental issues as part of the specialized curriculum. Learning is done mostly by hands-on experiences; for instance, students are able to go to the zoo frequently and have extended yet limited access to go inside certain animal enclosures.

Wildlife Conservation Fund[edit]

In 1985, a conservation fund was started by John Boyles. The fund pays special attention to native Michigan animals, but also has funded programs in support of endangered amphibians and reptiles. The Wildlife Conservation Fund has funded projects that helped conserve wildlife and habitats in 30 countries.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "History Of The Zoo". Kent County, Michigan. Archived from the original on 2007-05-18. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  2. ^ "Animals". John Ball Zoo. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  3. ^ "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  4. ^ a b "From The Executive Director". John Ball Zoological Society Zoo News. Summer 2008. p. 3.
  5. ^ a b "Monkey Island 1949-2009". John Ball Zoological Society Zoo News. Summer 2008. pp. 8–9.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) see Monday June 26
  7. ^ "Kent County Board of Commissioners minutes" (PDF). Kent County, Michigan. December 13, 2001. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  8. ^ "John Ball Zoo: Vision Plan 2005" (PDF). accessKent. Kent County, Michigan. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-02-19. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  9. ^ King, Kyla (2005-08-02). "The zoo of the future? County Plan would Give John Ball Animals Room to Roam". Grand Rapids Press. pp. A1–A2. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
  10. ^ "John Ball lion exhibit gets OK". Grand Rapids Press. April 18, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  11. ^ "Lions return to John Ball Zoo in forest exhibit". The Muskegon Chronicle. April 14, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  12. ^ "Lions of Lake Manyara built to conserve". John Ball Zoological Society Zoo News. Winter 2008. p. 13.
  13. ^ "From the Executive Director". John Ball Zoological Society Zoo News. Winter 2008. p. 3.
  14. ^ "Monkey Island Update". John Ball Zoological Society Zoo News. Fall 2008. p. 7.
  15. ^ "3 sharks, 18 stingrays die at John Ball Zoo after lagoon malfunction". WOOD TV 8.
  16. ^ "John Ball Zoo Funicular opens to the public". WZZM13. Archived from the original on 2013-04-12.
  17. ^ "Animals at the Zoo". accessKent. Kent County, Michigan. Archived from the original on 2007-02-20. Retrieved 2007-05-19.
  18. ^ "It's a boy!". John Ball Zoological Society Zoo News. Summer 2007. p. 11.
  19. ^ "Black-Footed Kittens Born". John Ball Zoological Society Zoo News. Fall 2008. p. 6.
  20. ^ "John Ball Zoo to open for the season on March 25". March 1, 2022. Retrieved 2022-04-12.
  21. ^ "John Ball Zoo building new exhibit for rare pygmy hippos". 2021-08-20. Retrieved 2022-04-12.
  22. ^ "Zoo School Mission and Enrollment Information". Grand Rapids Public Schools. Archived from the original on 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2007-05-16.
  23. ^ "John Ball Zoo Society: Conservation". John Ball Zoo Society. Archived from the original on 2007-06-10. Retrieved 2007-05-16.

External links[edit]