Jacksonville Zoo and GardensJacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

More to see. More to zoo.


On May 12, 2014, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will be celebrating its centennial anniversary.
Yes, that’s 100 years!

In preparation for our centennial celebration, we will feature a small sliver of Jacksonville Zoo history each month for the next 36 months. We invite you to share your own memories and to help us learn more about your Zoo!
Send your remembrances and pictures to (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Jacksonville Zoo History 1914-2014
Featured July 2013
Alan F. Rost, Biological Programs Registrar and unofficial Zoo historian

Bears at the Jacksonville Zoo

One of the most asked about species by the public when they come to our Zoo is whether we have any bears.  Currently we have one North American Black Bear with tentative plans to add one of the Asian bear species as our Asian area development continues.  We do not have any records for bears in 1914 and in the period from 1917 to 1953.  That does not necessarily mean we did not have bears, just that we have no records.  We know we did not have any bears during the 1990s.  Other than that our Zoo has had one or more species of bear during much of the Zoo’s history.  In fact, there was a period in the 1960s and 1970s when we had as many as eight types of bear on exhibit.  This, of course, was made possible by the large oval grotto exhibit area that opened in 1963 and was capable of holding up to sixteen animal species on exhibit individually.  When I arrived in early 1989 the Zoo had already emptied most of the grotto sections and the only bear then in the collection was the sloth bear.  Here are the bears for which we have some records documenting their time in Jacksonville:

Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) 1962-1975 with at least one offspring
Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus) 1973-1975; 1982-1989
Sri Lankan Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus inornatus) 1979-1989 with at least four offspring
Spectacle Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) 1961-1979 with at least one offspring
North American Black Bear (Ursus americansu) 1915-1916; 1954-1973; 2000-current
European Brown Bear (Ursus arctos arctos) 1963-1967
Grizzly Bear (Uusus arctos horribilis) 1963-1976 with at least eleven offspring
Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) 1957-1983 with at least two offspring
Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus) 1959-1974 with at least seven offspring
Tibetan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus thibetanus) 1974-1981

Our first known bear birth was an Asiatic Black Bear in January 1963 and our last recorded bear birth was a Sri Lankan Sloth Bear in December 1984.  Unfortunately, many of our bear cubs did not survive.

Our two Polar Bears, “Jeff” and “Jane”, were both wild born and came to us from Greenland in 1957.  Jeff eventually died in 1982 and in 1983 Jane was sent to the Detroit Zoo.  Our two European Brown Bears were both females, “Brandy” and “Cherry”, were retired here from their life as circus bears.  Some of you may remember “Tamil” a Sri Lankan Sloth Bear.  She was born here in November 1981.  When she and a male Sloth Bear “Misha” left our Zoo in November 1989 for the Jackson Zoo in Mississippi they were our last bears until the North American Black Bears arrived in 2000.

If you have any information, pictures or photos about the Jacksonville Zoo during this timeframe that you would like to share, (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

See below for more Zoo history tidbits to get those memory juices flowing!

World War II Questions
Most Important Zoo Dates - Featured May 2011
Before there was a Zoo - Featured June 2011
The Springfield Park Zoo opens - Featured July 2011
Early Animal Collection Inventory - Featured August 2011
The Night the Zoo Almost Washed Away - Featured September 2011
William S. Cruzan, Zoo Superintendent - Featured October 2011
Miss Chic the Jacksonville Zoo’s First Elephant - Featured November 2011
Longest Resident Species - Featured December 2011
Updates to Date - Featured January 2012
Late 1920s through the Early 1950s - Featured February 2012
Gus Basford and the Jacksonville Zoo - Featured March 2012
“Doc” and the 1960s – Featured April 2012
Questions, Questions, Questions - Featured May 2012
Jacksonville Zoo Animal Acquisition in the 1960s - Featured June 2012
The New Jacksonville Zoo/The Jacksonville Zoological Society - Featured July 2012
Jacksonville Zoological Society Objectives 1971 - Featured August 2012
Internationally Infamous - Featured September 2012
Jacksonville Zoo Trains - Featured October 2012
Giraffes at the Jacksonville Zoo - Featured November 2012
Hippo History at the Jacksonville Zoo - Featured December 2012
Rhinos in Jacksonville – Successes and Failures - Featured January 2013

Zoo History Basics

Red Deer The Zoo opened in the Springfield section of Jacksonville on May 12, 1914, with the donation of one red deer fawn.  Several domestic animals were added later and a “monkey island” was established.  On July 19, 1925, the Municipal Zoo, as it was then known, relocated to its present site bordering on the Trout River.  Starting with 37.5 acres, the Zoo continued to grow, reaching about 89 acres when an 11-acre tract of land adjoining the Zoo to the east was acquired in January 1992.  On October 20, 1993, the Zoo name was officially changed from the Jacksonville Zoological Park to the Jacksonville Zoological Gardens.

The first major animal purchase of the Zoo was a female Asian Elephant bought in 1926 with money raised by local school children.  By the end of the 1960s, the Zoo is reputed to have had the largest collection of exotic animals in the Southeast, but it had fallen on hard times and a great deal of money was needed to save the Zoo.  Community leaders, under the direction of Mayor Hans Tanzler, appointed a seven-member committee to search for an alternative to closing the Zoo.

The Jacksonville Zoological Society subsequently came into being in April 1971, having grown from the seven-member committee to 85 of the city’s most influential leaders.  The Society began managing the Zoo on June 21, 1971.

The city of Jacksonville contracts with the Society to manage all phases of the operation of the Zoo.  All property, including animals and equipment, and all improvements, belong to the city, which in turn contributes an annual subsidy to offset some of the Zoo’s operating expenses.  All other Zoo expenses are paid through revenues earned from admission and concession sales, membership and adoption, and group sales.  The Jacksonville Zoo serves a two-state area within a 100-mile radius of the facility.

A major redevelopment of the Jacksonville Zoo began in 1992.  Through a combination of River City Renaissance funds and donations from the private sector, $22.5 million was raised to complete Phase One of the Master Plan.  Projects completed include a new front entry gate and parking lot, the Main Camp Safari Lodge, Birds of the Rift Valley Aviary, Great Apes of the World, an expanded train ride, an elephant and breeding complex, River Branch Foundation Animal Medical Center, the PepsiCo Foundation Education Campus and redevelopment of the 11-acre Plains of East Africa.  The last project of the 1992 Master Plan, a Florida wetlands attraction, “Wild Florida,” opened in March 2001.

In March 2002, the Zoo opened the Outback Steakhouse Australian Adventure.  Range of the Jaguar, the Zoo’s national award winning premier attraction, opened March 5, 2004.  In March of 2005, the Wildlife Carousel opened to the public for the first time, with its 34 hand-painted animals.  In April of 2005 the redesigned viewing area for the Giraffes called Giraffe Overlook and the first botanical gardens, Savanna Blooms, opened.  As part of this development the main path was redesigned and widened for guest comfort.  Play Park, an exciting environment providing children learning opportunities, opened in the late spring of 2006.  In September, 2007, the latest addition to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, the Gardens at Trout River Plaza opened.  The plaza serves as the gateway to the Asian Bamboo Gardens that opened in the spring of 2009 with the new komodo dragon exhibit. 

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is an accredited institution of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.