Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

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Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium logo.svg
Date openedJune 14, 1898
LocationPittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States (in Highland Park)
Coordinates40°29′02″N 79°55′05″W / 40.484°N 79.918°W / 40.484; -79.918Coordinates: 40°29′02″N 79°55′05″W / 40.484°N 79.918°W / 40.484; -79.918
Land area77 acres (31 ha)
No. of animalsOver 4,000
No. of species475
Major exhibitsForest Passage, African Savanna, Tropical Forest, The Islands, Jungle Odyssey, PPG Aquarium, Water's Edge, Kid's Kingdom

The Pittsburgh Zoo is one of only six major zoo and aquarium combinations in the United States. Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Highland Park, the zoo sits on 77 acres (31 ha) of park land where it exhibits more than 4,000 animals representing 475 species, including 20 threatened or endangered species.

The zoo's accredited membership of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) was dropped in 2015.[1]


The Pittsburgh Zoo opened on June 14, 1898, as Highland Park Zoo,[2] after Christopher Lyman Magee donated $125,000 (about four million dollars when adjusted for inflation)[3] for the construction of a zoological garden in Pittsburgh's Highland Park. Like most other zoos of the time, the Pittsburgh Zoo more closely resembled a menagerie than an actual zoo. However, as time progressed, the animal exhibits eventually became more naturalistic, and the zoo's goal became more focused on conservation.

In 1937, the bear exhibits were built under the Works Progress Administration. These exhibits were the zoo's first attempt at constructing more naturalistic exhibits instead of simply displaying animals in cages. In 1949, the Children's Zoo opened with a grant from the Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation. The Children's Zoo contained interactive exhibits and play areas for children, including a simulated large chunk of cheese that was inhabited by dozens of live mice. In 1967, the AquaZoo, a large aquarium, opened to the public. At the time of its completion, the AquaZoo was the only aquarium in Pennsylvania and the second largest aquarium in the United States.

In 1980, the zoo's Master Plan was put into effect. This plan called for extensive renovations and the construction of more naturalistic exhibits. The Asian Forest, which opened in 1983, was the first area of the zoo that utilized this new philosophy of naturalistic exhibits. The African Savanna was the next area to obtain naturalistic exhibits when it was completed in 1987. 1991 marked the opening of the Tropical Forest, a five-acre indoor rain forest showcasing about 16 species of primate and 150 tropical plant species. That same year, the Children's Zoo was renovated and renamed the Children's Farm. Three petting zoos were built in Children's Farm where children could pet kangaroos, deer, and domesticated animals such as sheep and goats.

In 1991, an American alligator was donated to the zoo by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The alligator was illegally taken from the wild in Florida by a Pennsylvania resident while on vacation. After returning home the alligator was removed by the Game Commission and donated to the zoo. The alligator hatched in June 1990. Named "Otis" by the zoo, the now 10 1/2', 400 pound alligator can be viewed from May until October in Kids' Kingdom. The adult male alligator can grow to 11' - 14' and 400 - 600 pounds on average and can live in excess of 60 years.

In 1994, the Pittsburgh Zoo became a private nonprofit organization, still owned by the City of Pittsburgh, but managed and operated by the Zoological Society of Pittsburgh. That same year, the Education Complex was built. This new building contained five classrooms, a library, and a 300-seat lecture hall. The construction of this building was an important part of the zoo's history because it signified the zoo's dedication to conservation and education. In 2000, the AquaZoo underwent a $17.4 million renovation, and was renamed the PPG Aquarium. This new aquarium is twice the size of the original AquaZoo. In 2002, the Education Complex was expanded to include a second story, providing more classrooms, teacher resource areas, and an animal holding area. This expansion was made possible by the Scaife Charitable Foundation and by donations from senator Rick Santorum.

On November 19, 2002, elephant keeper Mike Gatti was killed by one of the zoo's elephants.[4] Gatti, 46, was killed while attempting to encourage the elephant to move to a different part of her enclosure.[4] She butted him with her head, crushing him against the ground and killing him instantly.[4] This was the first instance of a human fatality at the zoo, although there had been injuries.[4]

In 2006, the Pittsburgh Zoo completed Water's Edge, a marine exhibit that allows guests to have close encounters with polar bears, sea otters, and sand tiger sharks.[5]

On November 4, 2012, a two-year-old boy, Maddox Derkosh, who had been sitting on the railing of the African wild dog exhibit, fell off the railing, bounced off protective netting, and fell into the enclosure, resulting in his death. The medical examiner subsequently determined that Maddox was killed by the 11 dogs that attacked him, not by the fall. Zookeepers immediately rushed to the area, firing darts to try and scare the dogs off, and police shot one particularly aggressive dog, which had refused to retreat from the exhibit when called. The other dogs were quarantined for thirty days but there were no plans to put them down.[6][7][8] The prosecutor, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania District Attorney Stephen Zappala, calling the incident a "tragic accident", has stated he will not charge Maddox's mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, 34, who had lifted the visually impaired boy up on top of the railing to get a better view. He is still investigating whether the zoo is at fault due to any possible negligence.[9] Since the incident, they replaced them with cheetahs. As a result of his death, Trucks for Maddox was created, to donate Maddox's toy trucks to children. It was also the second human fatality at the zoo.

The sea lion exhibit in the Kids Kingdom section of the Pittsburgh Zoo.


The Pittsburgh Zoo is divided into eight sections, each of which focuses on a particular theme.

Kid's Kingdom[edit]

Kid's Kingdom opened in 1949, when it was then simply called Children's Zoo. In 1994 a naming contest was implemented for a new name to the newly expanded area, the name was from winner Adam Mellinger from Westmoreland County, PA. This section of the zoo is an interactive children's area, and contains a petting zoo stocked with domesticated animals;[5] a reptile house; a playground; and several exhibits featuring wildlife from Pennsylvania, including white-tailed deer, beavers, and river otters including a sea lion exhibit.[10]

Kid's Kingdom contains many interactive exhibits, such as the meerkat exhibit, which contains crawl-through tunnels that gives the viewer an idea of what it is like to be a meerkat or other burrowing animal[11] as well as a walk-through kangaroo pen. The animal yards and habitats in Kids Kingdom allow visitors to learn about animals' lives, behaviors, and points-of-view. Kid's Kingdom has been highly ranked by both Parent Magazine and America's Best Zoos Travel Guide.[12]

PPG Aquarium[edit]

Built in 1967 (then called AquaZoo) and renovated in 2000,[5] the PPG Aquarium is a 45,000 square foot, two-story aquarium that presents several aquatic habitats. The aquarium's theme is the "Diversity of Water," and contains several exhibits that portray different marine ecosystems, including a tropical rainforest inhabited by arapaima and piranha; a Pennsylvania exhibit, which features fish and aquatic wildlife of the Allegheny River, such as the brook trout; a penguin exhibit, which is inhabited by kings, macaronis, and gentoos; a coral reef; and an open ocean exhibit.[13]

Forest Passage[edit]

Forest Passage (formerly Asian Forest) contains several species from Eastern and Southeast Asia, and simulates a journey from the Himalayas to Indonesia. This section features some of the most critically endangered big cats of Asia, including Amur leopards, and Siberian tigers, as well as several other Asian animals, such as Komodo dragons,[14] snow leopards, and red pandas. This section, opened in 1983, is the result of the zoo's Master Plan of 1980, which was dedicated to create more naturalistic exhibits than what existed at the time.[5]

In January 2017, the Pittsburgh Zoo's only snow leopard, Chaney, died of cancer at 17. Since then, the zoo has displayed two Canada lynx in the snow leopard exhibit. In late 2018, several cubs were born to the pair, resulting in a larger family of Lynx. This change has prompted the zoo to rename Asian Forest to Forest Passage in light of the inclusion of a non-Asian animal species.

Tropical Forest[edit]

The Tropical Forest, which opened in 1991, is a 0.5-acre indoor rainforest. This building focuses mostly on primates, containing 16 species in total. Ring-tailed lemurs, black-and-white ruffed lemurs, red ruffed lemurs, tufted capuchins, white-faced sakis, black howler monkeys, white-cheeked gibbons, Angola colobuses, blue monkeys, and great apes, including gorillas and orangutans all live in this building.[5] Several other types of rainforest animals are displayed here as well, such as Hoffman's two-toed sloths and Solomon Island leaf frogs.[15]

African Savanna[edit]

Like the Asian Forest, the African Savanna is also a result of the zoo's Master Plan of 1980.[5] Completed in 1987, this section of the zoo is modeled to give the viewer the impression that he or she is walking along a river in an African savanna. This section of the zoo contains lions, African bush elephants, giraffes, plains zebras, black rhinos, flamingos, ostrich, dama gazelle, and nyala.

Cheetah Valley is part of the African Savanna. It originally exhibited the African wild dogs and known as Painted Dog Encounter and African Painted Dog Bush Camp, but they were removed because of the incident on November 4, 2012 in order to ensure the safety of the visitors. This exhibit now features cheetahs. Visitors can view them from a glass panel. The former observation platform was permanently replaced by tall protective welded fences and shrubbery.[16]


The three bear exhibits were built in 1937 under the Works Progress Administration program, and are the oldest exhibits in the zoo.[5] Three bear species were displayed here: American black bears, spectacled bears, and a Kodiak bear.[17]

In August 2010, the Pittsburgh Zoo announced that their 28-year-old Kodiak bear, Rocky, died. Rocky was suffering from severe arthritis in the joints between his vertebrae, causing severe pain and limited mobility. Although the veterinary staff attempted to alleviate Rocky's pain, his quality of life continued to rapidly decline, and he had to be humanely euthanized. As of August 2010, his exhibit is empty.[18]

The bear exhibits are currently empty. Plans exist to construct new bear exhibits, while the old ones are being used as part of zoo expansion and construction.[19]

Water's Edge[edit]

Completed in 2006, Water's Edge is a newer section of the zoo, and is located adjacent to the PPG aquarium. This section is constructed to resemble a coastal fishing village, and illustrates the ways that humans interact with marine wildlife in coastal areas. A long walk-through tunnel runs through three large water tanks containing polar bears, sea otters, two elephant seals, two California sea lions, and formerly sand tiger sharks.[20]

According to Barbara Baker, the shark/elephant seal exhibit was originally intended for walruses, but walruses are difficult to obtain. The elephant seal, named "Coolio," who was taken in early in 2014 replaced the Sand-tiger Sharks in 2017 as a resident of Water's edge. As of 2020, two rescued females have also been brought in. Coolio died in December 2019.[21][22] The sand tiger sharks were moved to Florida in the process.

The Islands[edit]

Opened in June 2015, The Islands exhibit is a 22,000 square foot exhibit featuring several endangered animals including two Philippine crocodiles, Galápagos tortoises, Visayan warty pigs, clouded leopards and a playful pair of Siamangs and their baby. The exhibit has scenery intended to provide the atmosphere of a tropical island, and includes a large area of sand with beach chairs and umbrellas.

Jungle Odyssey[edit]

Opened in June 2017, Jungle Odyssey is an expansion directly behind The Islands. The area displays rainforest animal species from rainforests around the world like Africa, Asia, and South America, featuring a mixed species exhibit housing capybaras and giant anteaters, as well as exhibits for ocelots, fossa, and a pygmy hippo.


On September 12, 1999, one of the zoo's female African elephants, Moja, successfully gave birth to a female calf, later named Victoria. This was a major feat for the zoo, because Victoria was the first African elephant to be born and survive in North America since 1982. Also, she was the first to be born to a captive-born mother. A second calf, a male named Callee, was born to another female named Savannah almost exactly one year later on September 19, 2000. The father of both of these calves is a bull named Jackson, who is currently the only male African breeding naturally in North America. Both Moja and Savannah became pregnant again in 2006. On July 9, 2008 Savannah gave birth to a female calf named Angelina. Moja gave birth to a female as well on July 25, 2008. This calf has been named Zuri.

On August 8, 2006, the zoo's female Amur tiger, Toma, gave birth to a litter of three cubs. This is also a major accomplishment because Amurs are endangered, and every successful litter counts a great deal. Although one of the cubs died of a heart defect in September (a female named Nadya), the other two are healthy and doing well. The surviving cubs are a male named Petya and a female named Mara.

Another Amur tiger cub was born to Toma on May 11, 2008. The male cub, Grom (name meaning Thunder for he was born during a thunderstorm), had been taken from his mother because Toma was not being very attentive to him. Handlers later determined that it is most likely because Toma is not producing enough milk, if any at all. On September 12, 2008, the baby cub was named after Billy Ray Cyrus, the country music and television star. Zoo representatives said the donors who paid to name the cub “Billy Ray” wanted to honor a late family member who was a big Cyrus fan.

Billy Ray will likely grow up to be about 11 feet long and weigh 450 pounds, according to the zoo.

In 2010, three cubs were again born to Toma, and to Taiga their father. All three are doing very well at the zoo. Toma is caring for all three.

On June 13, 2009, a baby sea lion was born. Other recent births include two North American river otters and a pair of baby beavers.

On October 25, 2009, Vega, one of the zoo's African painted dogs gave birth to a litter of nine live puppies, and one dead puppy. Vega died the next day, leaving her puppies orphaned. To help nurse and raise the dogs, the zoo found a domesticated dog, Honey, from a local shelter who had recently given birth and was still lactating. Honey immediately took to the puppies and fed them. At the same time, the zoo's vet staff hand-fed the puppies a liquid diet fortified with enzymes. Although, four of the remaining puppies died - the typical mortality rate for African painted dogs is 50 percent - the remaining five were healthy and doing well after a month.[23] The painted dogs were involved in the death of a young boy in November 2012, during which one dog was shot, and the exhibit was closed.[24] The painted dogs left the zoo in 2013 and are moved to other zoos.[25]


  1. ^ "Pittsburgh zoo drops accreditation due to disagreement over elephant handling". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  2. ^ "The Highland Park Zoo". www.brooklineconnection.com. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  3. ^ Halfhill,Tom (2011). "Tom's Inflation Calculator". Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d Belser, Ann, and Marylynne Pitz. "Elephant kills keeper at Pittsburgh zoo", the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published November 19, 2002, accessed December 26, 2007.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Pittsburgh Zoo. "Zoo History". Archived from the original on February 25, 2015. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  6. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo says 2-year-old was killed by dogs, not fall, LA Times, Matt Pearce, November 5, 2012. “ . . The zoo passed recent inspections and "discouraged" visitors from putting children on such railings, Baker [zoo chief executive] said, although she did not elaborate on whether there were specific policies or regulations in place. . ”
  7. ^ CBS News. "Child Mauled And Killed At Zoo". Retrieved November 5, 2012.
  8. ^ Zoo officials: Toddler's death in Pittsburgh shows no zoo is 100 percent safe, NBC News, Andrew Mach, November 7, 2012.
  9. ^ "News". Archived from the original on December 1, 2012. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  10. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo. "Kid's Kingdom". Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  11. ^ Powell, Albrecht (2011). "Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium". About.com. Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  12. ^ Smith, Pohla (April 11, 2009). "Pittsburgh Zoo Named 4th Best for Kids". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  13. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo. "PPG Aquarium". Archived from the original on September 27, 2010. Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  14. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo. "Asian Forest". Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  15. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo. "Tropical Forest". Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  16. ^ "Cheetah now calls home the African painted dog exhibit at Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium | TribLIVE.com". archive.triblive.com. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  17. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo. "Bears". Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  18. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo (August 10, 2010). "Saying Goodbye to Rocky". Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  19. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo (2015). "Zoo Announces New Exhibit".
  20. ^ Pittsburgh Zoo. "Water's Edge". Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  21. ^ "Sand Tiger Sharks Move Into New Home at Pittsburgh Zoo". ThePittsburghChannel. October 6, 2008. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  22. ^ "Coolio the seal makes fantastic voyage to Pittsburgh zoo exhibit". WPXI Pittsburgh. July 20, 2017. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  23. ^ "Five African Painted Dog Pups Doing Well at Zoo". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. November 23, 2009.
  24. ^ "Pittsburgh Zoo closes African painted dogs exhibit after boy's death". WTAE. May 8, 2013. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  25. ^ "Pittsburgh Zoo Giving Away Painted Dogs In Wake Of Tragedy". April 10, 2013. Retrieved December 8, 2019.

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