Prospect Park Zoo in New York City
The Prospect Park Zoo is a zoo located off Flatbush Avenue on the eastern side of Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City. Its precursor, the Menagerie, opened in 1890. The present facility first opened as a city zoo on July 3, 1935 and was part of a larger revitalization program of city parks, playgrounds and zoos initiated in 1934 by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. It was built, in large part, through Civil Works Administration and Works Project Administration (WPA) labor and funding.
After 53 years of operation as a city zoo run by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Prospect Park Zoo closed on June 1988 for reconstruction. The closure signaled the start of a five year, $37 million dollar renovation program, that, save for the exteriors of the 1930s-era buildings, completely replaced the zoo. It was rededicated on October 5, 1993 as the Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center, joining an integrated system of four zoos and one aquarium managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Located at 450 Flatbush Avenue, across from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, the zoo is situated on a 12 acre plot Signs often ask challenging questions, reinforcing presentations made in the Zoo's Discovery Center, or alert viewers to look for signs of animal habitation. Along one part of the Discovery Trail, young visitors may crawl through "underground burrows" to observation posts roofed with clear, hemispherical observation ports. They may observe prairie dogs in the ground, right in the midst of the animals themselves. The Prospect Park Zoo is engaged in breeding such species in captivity, a part of the larger wild life recovery program of the Wildlife Conservation Society. The zoo is engaged in augmenting populations of Bali Mynah and Cottontop Tamarins through breeding in captivity.
The main Animal Lifestyles exhibit consists of a troop of Hamadryas Baboons.
The zoo hosts educational venues as well as exhibits. These revolve around the Discovery Center, a building with classrooms and laboratories designed to introduce school-age children to investigative practices of environmental and wildlife scientists. The Discovery Center introduces children to laboratory practices; they learn about and use professional laboratory equipment and learn how to integrate what they observe into zoological theory. These programs are based on educational concepts developed through WIZE (Wildlife Inquiry through Zoo Education), a program developed by Bronx Zoo educators. Following their graduation, docents assist staff in putting on demonstrations and explaining exhibits.
Special events round out these periodic offerings. In 2007, Prospect Park Zoo outreach educators presented “Bison and American Prairies” at the Brooklyn Public Library. They employed kinaesthetic activities to teach about the dynamics of food webs, the role of keystone species, and the effect of one animal’s extinction on other animals. WCS efforts to conserve the American bison illustrated various aspects of animal population interactions. State Treasurer Harry Adams followed with a donation of three white deer, establishing a pattern. It was mainly through donations of animals by rich or prominent individuals that the Menagerie grew. By 1893, one observer noted that “seven seals arrived, one buffalo, from the estate of Samuel B. Duryea, three red foxes, three bears, one sacred cow, two white deer, five red deer, seven seals, and twelve to fifteen peacocks."
The animals were kept in pens on Sullivan Hill, situated across the East Drive from the zoo's present location, near the sheep paddock and northeast of the Dairy Farmhouse. Of the original zoological facilities in the park, the Deer Paddock, located near the present Carousel, was converted into a meadow and the deer were moved to the new Menagerie, The Wild Fowl Pond remained, located on the east side of the park in a low area now forming the northern part of the zoo.
The Menagerie continued to accrue animals in the first decades of the twentieth century. These were generally donated by prominent individuals and institutions and formed a varied collection of specimens both native to North America and other regions of the world.
Robert Moses and the making of the "modern" Prospect Park Zoo
When he assumed office in January 1934, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia tapped Robert Moses to head a newly unified Parks Department. Moses soon prepared extensive plans to reconstruct the city's parks, renovate existing facilities and create new swimming pools, zoos, playgrounds and parks. Moses acquired substantial Civil Works Administration, and later, Works Progress Administration funding and soon embarked upon an eight year city-wide construction program, relieving some of the high unemployment in New York City in this Depression year.
Plans for the new Prospect Park Zoo, prepared by Aymar Embury II, were announced in March, 1934. The area between the Wild Fowl Pond and former Deer Paddock on the east side of the park, situated across the East Drive from the Menagerie, was chosen as the site for the new zoo. Architect Embury designed a half circle of six brick buildings centered on a seal pool. Built of red brick with limestone trim, the buildings featured scenes from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
A decade later, a New York Times reporter visiting the zoo noted that "...an Asiatic Black Bear lay on a rock a short distance from a guard rail. A shattered wine bottle, a cracked stick, and a number of empty beer cans were strewn about the ground a few feet in front of him. 'How many times have I seen a bear lift his foot and leave a bloody foot print?' said John Kinzig, a park supervisor at the Prospect Park Zoo. 'Vandalism is a major problem, and deterioration is overtaking repairs.'" Others felt that a zoo was not in keeping with the original design of Prospect Park and urged its complete removal from the grounds.
After fifteen years of off-again, on-again, conversations, The Koch Administration and the then-named NY Zoological Society (now Wildlife Conservation Society), signed a fifty year agreement in April, 1980, where the Central, Prospect, and Queens zoos would be administered by the Society. Specific plans for Prospect Park Zoo were another seven years in the making. By late summer 1987, an $18 million, two and a half year renovation plan The exteriors of the Aymar Embury buildings were preserved, but badly deteriorated interiors were gutted, pits and cages were demolished, and new structures were built. The facilities were turned over to the NY Zoological Society in April 1993.
A further six months were needed to repopulate the zoo, prepare exhibits, and ready the facility for the public. The re-purposed zoo opened on October 5, 1993 under the rubric "Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center".
The programs of the new center were geared toward educating children. Classrooms for the Discovery Center were housed in a dedicated building on the north wing of the zoo. Exhibits housed smaller species, eschewing elephants, tigers, and lions, and augmented displays with interactive exhibits. The two zoos were the smallest among the facilities managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, and had the lowest annual attendance rates, approximately 200,000 for each threatened zoo. In contrast, the Bronx Zoo boasted annual attendance of two million and the Central Park Zoo enjoyed one million visitors annually.
Over the next two months, the fate of the two zoos hung in limbo while the city's executive branch and City Council hammered out a compromise budget. While there were a number of items on the budget, the zoo closures remained among the more visible of anticipated losses. In the middle of June, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller visited the zoo, and in a press conference outlined some of the pragmatic consequences of closure: a savings estimated by the city of $6 million for both facilities that would be offset by a WCS estimated expenditure of $8 million, to decommission facilities and — on short notice — find homes for 160 displaced animals. If the estimates were correct, reasoning went, it would be cheaper to run the zoos than to shut them down.
By the start of the new fiscal year in July 2003 the approved budget restored a reduced funding level to the affected WCS facilities. To keep the Prospect Park and Queens zoos open, the WCS had to close two classroom based instructional programs, lay off the supporting full- and part-time instructors and double admission fees. Funding levels for the Wildlife Conservation Society were restored in the 2007 city budget, though vulnerability to shortfalls remain. In the opening months of 2009, The WCS itself faced the prospect of losing its fiscal year 2010 New York State funding. While not citing specifics concerning Prospect Park Zoo, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported in the NY Daily News that the proposed cuts will involve "'layoffs [that] would cut across the board,' and include 'front-line workers' in sales, groundskeeping and other positions, and include both union and nonunion positions".
As of 2007, 234,000 people visited the Prospect Park Zoo, a drop of 1,000 from the 2006 level of 235,000. Visitation since then has shown a steady increase with 269,914 people visiting in 2009. </ref>
- Description of the zoo at the Prospect Park Alliance web site
- Wildlife Conservation Society's Prospect Park Zoo web site
- Map of Prospect Park Zoo (Portable Document Format - PDF)
- Historical images of the Menagerie and Prospect Park Zoo