125 years of the Denver Zoo


From its humble beginnings to today being able to boast the most state-of-the-art facilities, the Denver Zoo has quite the story. Here is a timeline with just some of the highlights:


1896 — A bear cub was gifted to former Denver Mayor Thomas S. McMurry, who took the cub to City Park for public viewing. Thus began the Denver Zoo, which, in its beginnings showcased local wildlife — elk, birds of prey, coyotes, etc. — that Colorado residents captured or found injured.

1898 — The Denver Zoo's first conservation project got its start, which was leading the national charge to save the American bison from extinction. Six breeding bison were transported from Kansas City, and about 16 years later, two more were acquired from Yellowstone National Park. The buffalo herd in Genesee are descendants of these initial efforts.

1918 — Bear Mountain opened, making the Denver Zoo the first in the nation to use Carl Hagenbeck's concept of naturalistic exhibitory, meaning people should see animals in natural habitats, not behind bars or in cages. Bear Mountain is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

1950 — The Denver Zoological Foundation formed, which helped the zoo get the resources it needed to become an attractive city amenity. One of the foundation's first efforts was to purchase an elephant, and thus, Cookie came to live at the Denver Zoo.

1959 — The Denver Zoo started charging admission for the first time as a source of sustainable revenue. Admission was 50 cents for adults and children were free. The zoo offered seven free days a year for those who could not afford admission, and this tradition of offering free days continues today.

1964 — The opening of the Feline House marked the Denver Zoo's most dramatic exhibit since the opening of Bear Mountain.

1982 — Denver Zoo begins treating animals on-site.

1988 — Voters passed a sales tax that would provide one penny for every $10 to the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), which today boasts 300 scientific and arts-and-culture institutions — including the Denver Zoo — in the seven-county metro area.

1994 — The birth of two polar bear cubs, named Klondike and Snow, became icons for the progress of animal care in zoos, as these two cubs were abandoned by their mother and hand-raised by Denver Zookeepers.

1996 — The Denver Zoo's first immersive exhibit, Primate Panorama, opens.

2004 — Predator Ridge opens. This exhibit was one of the first of its kind, and allows for different species of animals to be rotated through multiple habitats. Predator Ridge is home to lions, wild dogs and hyenas.

2012 — Toyota Elephant Passage opened in 2012 with the same concept as Predator Ridge, except with elephants and rhinos.

2020 — The new Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Animal Hospital opens at the Denver Zoo. The facility is state-of-the-art and boasts the most advanced technology in the industry.

MORE: This story is continued from the story, A ‘mini window into the wild’: Denver Zoo has been connecting people to animals for 125 years

Denver Zoo, history, animals, wildlife


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