Unknown-man-with-opossums-a04The Zoo traces its history to 1870, when Jacob E. Bergtold, a prominent furrier, presented a pair of deer to the City of Buffalo. The deer were housed on a small piece of land in Delaware Park.  Five years and a few animals later, the first permanent building was erected, signifying the establishment of the Buffalo Zoological Gardens in 1875.  Over the next fifteen years, a flock of sheep, a pair of bison and eight elk were added.

In 1890, development continued with the construction of a bear exhibit and a larger animal house. With these additions, public awareness began to grow and, as a result, many animals were donated to the Zoo. Old-Bear-Pits-at-Buffalo-Zo04Due to the rapidly growing animal collection, the City hired Frank J. Thompson as the Zoo's first curator in 1895.

In 1912, the elephant house was completed for the Zoo’s new elephant.  Other animals on display during this period included: badgers, bears (black, brown, and polar), fox, moose, raccoon, sea lions, wolves, and woodchuck.  An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people visited the thriving animal collection on a beautiful day in the early 1900's.

Elephant-House-4-198304In 1929, there had been no City funded improvements at the Zoo for 17 years.  Area citizens began suggesting the formation of a Zoological Society to raise both funds and public interest for the Zoo, as had proven successful in other cities.  In November 1930, Mayor Roesch held a public hearing to discuss the matter of Zoo improvements, a meeting brought on by newspaper editorials and a group of concerned citizens.  The band, under the leadership of Stuart T. Goldberg, incorporated the Zoological Society in 1931.


F-Meyer-and-A-Marlin-Perkin02The redevelopment of the Buffalo Zoo began under the direction of the Works Progress Administration.  The modernization project, estimated to cost $1.5 million, included construction of the Main Animal Building. Marlin Perkins, who was hired as curator in 1938 from the St. Louis Zoo, further revived the Zoo.  Under Curator Perkins, the animal collection flourished into what was considered one of the finest in the country. In 1942, the Reptile House was opened with more than 400 specimens and declared by Perkins to be "the finest reptile house in America."

Over the next 20 years, financial difficulties limited the Zoo's growth, but the City attempted to move forward.  Revenues were generated through the addition of a train ride and concession stands in the early 1950s.  In October of 1958, the Zoo was closed for five months to undergo $300,000 worth of repairs including a new sewer system, renovation of the elephant house, and reconstruction of the small mammal house.

Groundbreaking-ceremony-for02In 1965, ground was broken for the Children's Zoo, a project funded by the Rotary Club of Buffalo.  With the improvements very well received, the Buffalo Zoo's attendance increased to over 1 million visitors in 1965-66.  In 1967, the Giraffe House and Animal Hospital were opened.

Operation of the Zoo was turned over to the Zoological Society in January of 1973. The City and for the first time, Erie County, provided the Zoo with a $350,000 budget. An admission fee was introduced to generate revenue for much-needed renovations, and the Naval Reserve provided assistance for Zoo improvements.

Habicat-construction-and-Mi02During the 1980s and 1990s, the number of animals in collection began to be reduced, with emphasis placed on breeding and reproduction of rare and endangered species.  Following along with national zoo trends, many new exhibits opened during this time period.  In 1981, the Gorilla Habitat was constructed. In January 1984, the Children's Resource Center opened, housing the Education Department and the Dr. Charles Drew Science Magnet School.  The Lion and Tiger Habicat was completed in the summer of 1988. The Parkside Entrance and Zootique were completed in the summer of 1992.  In 1996, the hyena exhibit was constructed. Other improvements included the Boehm Porcelain Gallery (1984), the Diversity of Life Hallway (1992), the Elephant Yard Renovation (1993), the World of Wildlife Interpretive Center (1993), and the Children's Zoo renovation (1997).  In 2002, The Buffalo Zoo developed a new master plan to guide future development of the Zoo.  Since then, several new exhibits have opened including: Vanishing Animals (2002), The Bone Zone (2002) Ecostation (2003) and Otter Creek (2004)..


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