Memphis Zoo

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Memphis Zoo
Entrance gate at the Memphis Zoo
Date openedApril 1906
LocationMemphis, Tennessee, United States
Coordinates35°09′00″N 89°59′39″W / 35.1500°N 89.9943°W / 35.1500; -89.9943Coordinates: 35°09′00″N 89°59′39″W / 35.1500°N 89.9943°W / 35.1500; -89.9943
Land area76 acres (31 ha)
No. of animals3,500
No. of species500
Annual visitors1.2 million[1]
Major exhibits19 spread across 3 zones

The Memphis Zoo, located in

Midtown, Memphis, Tennessee, United States, is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 500 different species. Created in April 1906, the zoo has been a major tenant of Overton Park
for more than 100 years. The land currently designated to the Memphis Zoo was defined by the Overton Park master plan in 1888, it is owned by the City of Memphis. The zoo is set on 76 acres (31 ha), of which approximately 55 acres (22 ha) are developed.

In 2008, the Memphis Zoo was ranked "#1 Zoo in the U.S." by

TripAdvisor. The ranking was based on visitor opinions.[3]

Since the early 1990s, the Memphis Zoo has invested over $77 million for renovation and expansion. The zoo's animal inhabitants reside in three zones with 19 exhibits, such as Teton Trek, Northwest Passage and China, home to giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le[4]

The Memphis Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).


A marker where "Natch" the bear was chained in 1906.[5]
The old elephant building behind it is now the zoo's education library.
Early 1900s

The zoo was established on April 4, 1906, with $1,200 from the Memphis Park Commission. In August 1906, 23 cages and concrete bear enclosures were built with another $3,628 thanks to the head of the Commission, Col. Robert Galloway.[6]

Galloway Hall, the Memphis Zoo's first building, was finished in 1907. It was named in honor of Col. Galloway, but was later demolished to make room for newer exhibits.[6]

The Carnivora Building was constructed in 1909 to house the first cats at the zoo.[6] It was later replaced by Cat Country, and converted into an inner-zoo restaurant.

The Elephant House opened in 1910.[6] The building is still used as the main building of the zoo's educational department, but the elephants were moved to the African Veldt exhibit.

In 1916, the Botanical Display Building opened. It was later converted into the Tropical Bird House.[6]

The Memphis Zoo acquired a round barn from the Memphis Police Department in 1923, who used the building as their stable for the mounted horse patrol in the early 1900s. The zoo's round barn exhibit is a collection of exotic hoofstock and birds.

In 1936, the zoo's first primate exhibit, Monkey Island, was built.[6] It was replaced in 1995 by Primate Canyon.


The Aquarium was completed in 1959.[6] It is one of the oldest exhibits at the Memphis Zoo. The building houses aquatic life from both fresh and salt water environments. In 1979, it had major renovations.[6]

The Herpetarium was constructed in 1960, located across from the Tropical Bird House.[6] The Herpetarium is home to the zoo's snakes, alligators, lizards and frogs. Later in the year, the Pachyderm/Elephant exhibit was finished, and the elephants moved in from the old elephant house.[6]

Late 1900s to present

The zoo renovated its entrance in 1990.[6] The main entrance way was designed by architect, Jeffery Borchardt. It was dubbed as the "Avenue of the Animals"[7] which displays a grand Egyptian motif modeled after the Avenue of Sphinxes in Egypt. The zoo portal facade features a 40' by 163' wall with hieroglyphics of all the animals in the zoo. In the top panels, the Memphis Zoo Mission Statement is written in hieroglyphics.

Cat Country, a 3-acre (1.2 ha), open-air exhibit focused on both predators and prey of the cat world, opened in 1993.[6] Tigers and lions share common space with fennec foxes and meerkats. An Education Complex, Discovery Center, and the Elephant's Trunk Zoo Shop also opened at this time.[6] The Carnivora Building that formerly housed the zoo's large cats was remodeled into The Cat House Cafe, which opened in 1994.

Three new exhibits opened in 1995.[6] Animals of the Night is devoted to nocturnal animals, and reverses their hours from normal so visitors can see them at their most active. Once Upon A Farm was built to resemble an early 1900s farm. Primate Canyon features naturalistic, outdoor exhibit areas for a variety of monkeys and apes.

Dragon's Lair was opened in 1998[6] for the zoo's three Komodo dragons, and includes outdoor and indoor areas, allowing them to stay warm during the cool winter months. A new animal hospital was also finished in 1998,[6] with separate holding and quarantine wings built on opposite ends of the building. The sick wing separates sick or injured animals from others and allows for proper recovery time. The quarantine wing is used for newly acquired animals, which are quarantined for at least 30 days upon arrival at the zoo before being introduced to their new homes. On September 18, 1998, two plaques were dedicated in memory of musician Jeff Buckley in the Memphis Zoo's Sumatran tiger exhibit. His mother chose that location because of his great love of the Memphis Zoo and the tigers in particular. Jeff frequently visited the zoo, had plans to become a volunteer in 1997 and, according to his mother, never left the zoo without visiting the Butterflies: In Living Color exhibit, which also opened early in 1998. The exhibit was replaced by "Birds and Bees" in late May 2009.

In April 2003, the Memphis Zoo became one of only four U.S. zoos to exhibit the giant panda. One male and one female giant panda ("Ya Ya" and "Le Le") share their 3-acre (1.2 ha) home with several other species native to China, in the first Memphis Zoo exhibit to be built as zoogeographical exhibit. The buildings, plant life and even the sounds of China are represented in this $16 million exhibit.

The Northwest Passage exhibit opened on March 1, 2006,[6] with underwater viewing for polar bears and sea lions. The animals frequently interact with visitors, and the sea lions are fond of following and mimicking small children.

Butterflies: In Living Color! was renovated in 2007.

of 35 different species. There were 56 varieties of plants for the butterflies to feed on.

Construction of the Teton Trek exhibit started in February 2008.

Old Forest Arboretum in order to build the exhibit drew sustained criticism by Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, which was reorganized in response to the forest reduction,[9] and by Park Friends, Inc.[10] Approximately 14 acres of forest adjacent to the zoo were left out of the protective area to ease opposition from former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and zoo officials.[11]

The zoo had its largest single day attendance ever on March 17, 2009, with more than 20,450 visitors.[12] In late May 2009, the Birds and Bees exhibit opened in the former butterfly exhibit. The butterfly garden moved outside the aviary, and is still close to the original exhibit. Longtime zoo favorite "Ann" the reticulated python died on July 28, 2009. She was 18 years old. Teton Trek was opened on October 10, 2009, and winning artists of the Teton Trek Art Contest were recognized.[13]

The zoo's second African exhibit, Zambezi River Hippo Camp, opened to the public on April 29, 2016.[14]

The future

The Memphis Zoo has a few projects in their future plans with funding efforts currently underway.

  • A new major attraction, expected to be complete by the spring of 2022, is underway with plans to renovate the Hippo Barn Enclosure as well as other unannounced parts of the zoo. Many new jobs will be created from this project.
  • An indoor coffee shop is expected to be built by summer 2021. Located near the front entrance of the zoo, it will sell coffee and pastries.


The zoo hosts modern exhibits that mimic the animals' natural

eateries; many of these amenities operate seasonally.[15]
A children's playground is located next to the Cat House Cafe, and several family picnic areas are maintained beneath groves of mature trees. An ice skating rink is operated seasonally at the zoo; the tented rink has an area of 5,400 square feet for skating. Camel rides and giraffe feeding are offered from March to October 2012 for a fee.

The zoo is divided into three zones that showcase a total of 19 different exhibits.

East zone

Teton Trek

The 4-acre (1.6 ha) exhibit,

Old Faithful Geyser[16] and a 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) replica of the Old Faithful Inn called the Great Lodge, where interpretive information is presented in an interactive format.[16] The exhibit is home to some of the keystone species of the Yellowstone ecosystem: grizzly bears, elk, timber wolves, trumpeter swans, a North American porcupine, black bears and sandhill cranes.[16] The exhibit's trail provides visitors with an underwater look at the bears' fishing pond and a prominent overlook atop the 25-foot (7.6 m) replica of Yellowstone's Firehole Falls.[16]

Northwest Passage

Home to the zoo's

totem poles that stand throughout the area received a Native American blessing ceremony when they arrived at the zoo.[19] The Northwest Passage is also home to the zoo's American bald eagles, and white-necked ravens.[19]

African Veldt

African elephants, white rhinos, and giraffe are joined by zebras, Grant's gazelle, and ostriches in this area.[19] African cranes, bontebok, lechwe, bongo and scimitar oryx also live here.[19] The zoo finished enlarging the elephant exhibit in 2006; it now features a pool that allows elephants to submerse and bathe.

World of Waterfowl

In this exhibit, two wooden bridges take visitors through a wetland. It is home to around 30


Birds and Bees

This exhibit opened in May 2009. It features an up-close look at two honey bee hives. Displays inside the exhibit explain what makes bees special and the role they play in agriculture. The indoor bee exhibit leads to an outdoor aviary that features approximately 500 budgies, commonly known as parakeets. In addition to viewing these colorful birds, visitors can feed them using millet seed-heads attached to sticks that are available for a small fee.

Central zone


Opened in April 2003,

Red pandas, François' langurs, and an assortment of colorful birds such as the golden pheasant and red-crowned crane.[21]

Primate Canyon

This exhibit was opened in 1995


Commercial Appeal Cat Country

This 3-acre (1.2 ha),

Bat-eared Foxs, cougars, Sumatran tigers, Bengal tigers, jaguars, snow leopards, and Red pandas.[21] The zoo employed cultural architecture native to the land of the species on exhibit (for example, temple ruins surround the Sumatran tiger exhibit).[21] The old Carnivora Building, where the cats used to live, was renovated to become the Memphis Zoo's primary restaurant – the Cat House Café.[21]

Zambezi River Hippo Camp

This African exhibit opened in 2016. Its location is adjacent to the Primate Pavilion and south entrance to the African Veldt. It is home to




Democratic Republic of Congo

Animals of the Night

This exhibit reverses the daily cycle of nocturnal animals,[21] giving visitors the chance to see night-dwellers at their most active. The exhibit is developed around a central bat flyway which enables visitors to get a close-up view of the bats in flight or feeding. Also exhibited are a wide range of other species—from aardvark to wombat.The exhibit also features the Bear cuscus which is featured in only 4 other zoos around the world. [20]

West zone

Dragon's Lair

This exhibit was specifically built for the

St. Louis Zoo
is visiting for breeding purposes (2013).

Tropical Bird House

A variety of colorful birds in outdoor enclosures can be seen by visitors at the entrance to the zoo's Tropical Bird House.[22] The building is home to exotic bird species from around the world such as the pygmy falcon, Burrowing owl, azure-winged magpie, Bali myna, crested coua, golden white-eye, Jambu fruit dove, Mariana fruit dove, plush-crested jay, purple-throated fruitcrow, red-billed hornbill, Tinian monarch, Toco toucan, and the white-tailed trogon. The exhibit features a walk-through aviary which allows visitors close contact to a number of birds, especially during feeding time.


The Aquarium is one of the oldest exhibits at the Memphis Zoo and houses

, The electric eel exhibit has a unique feature that converts the eel's electric pulses into a sound and visual display.

Penguin Rock

Over 30 African penguins live across from the zoo's rides area at Penguin Rock.[22] American white pelicans are located nearby.[22]

Once Upon A Farm

This exhibit was built to resemble an early 1900s farm.

vegetable garden, a cotton patch, and rows of corn
provide visitors with some of the essential elements of a southern farm during the growing season.


Located across from the Tropical Bird House, the

Louisiana pine snake and the axolotl, in addition to some of the most venomous snakes in the world, including the green mamba,[22] Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and Gaboon viper. It is home to an alligator snapping turtle and Galápagos tortoises. In a seasonal exhibit, a simulated shallow pond provides favorable breeding habitat for the highly endangered Mississippi gopher frog; this exhibit also features a slide presentation describing the zoo's participation in the frog's recovery program. The exhibit also includes a selection of Crocodiles which includes Dwarf crocodiles, West African slender-snouted crocodiles, and an American alligator

Round Barn

The Round Barn is home to


Other features


Landscaping plays a key role in each of the zoo's three zones, both within exhibits and along the interconnecting trails.[26] Water features, such as ponds, waterfalls, fountains, and streams, are dominant elements of the overall design, in addition to artificial rock formations which blend into the containment walls of the animals' enclosures. Other key elements of the landscaping are a diverse mix of trees, shrubs, and seasonal herbaceous plants.

Most of the larger trees are native species, which include

in the Northwest Passage and Teton Trek Exhibits.


oleanders growing above a groundcover of coleus and ornamental sweet potato


The Memphis Zoo sponsors a wide variety of special events with the overall theme—Always Something To Do. These include: Horticultural Tours (periodic), Plant Sale (April), Zoo Boo with its Haunted Forest (October), Zoo Lights with over 1 million holiday lights, Santa, live reindeer, and magic show (November/December),[29] Zoo Rendezvous (September), Zoo Snooze (periodic), and many more.[30] There are also a wide assortment of educational activities throughout the year for school-aged children.


Exzoobrance is a bimonthly magazine published by the Memphis Zoological Society to keep patrons informed about zoo-related activities and information. Each edition includes a calendar of events, a description of special events, news about educational and conservation programs, information about the animals and their exhibits, and a kid's activity page. Copies are archived online beginning in 2009.[31]


  1. ^ "Year in review" (PDF). 2017. Retrieved 2021-05-04.
  2. ^ "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  3. ^ "TripAdvisor's Call of the Wild: Top 10 U.S. Aquariums and Zoos". Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  4. ^ . Wolff, Cindy (2008-04-20). "Memphis Zoo striving to create more humane, educational atmosphere with 20-year plan". Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2008-04-20.
  5. – via Google Books.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "History". Memphis Zoo. Archived from the original on 12 November 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  7. ^ "Avenue of the Animals". Memphis Art. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  8. ^ Wolff, Cindy (2008-05-03). "Group upset zoo took out 139 trees to build Teton Trek". Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2008-04-19.
  9. ^ Meek, Andy. "Group Opposes Clear-Cutting For Zoo Exhibit". The Daily News. Memphis, Tennessee. Retrieved 2008-04-19.
  10. ^ The groups subsequently pursued a successful, 16-month campaign to have the Arboretum designated as a State Natural Area by the Tennessee General Assembly. "Forest group upset at Memphis Zoo for removing trees". WMC-TV Memphis. 2008-03-05. Retrieved 2008-04-19.
  11. ^ "Legislature Protects Overton Park Forest", 'The Commercial Appeal', May 21, 2011; accessed August 9, 2011.
  12. ^ "Record-breaking 20,450 visitors at the Memphis Zoo in Overton Park". Jim Weber/Commercial Appeal. 2009-03-17. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  13. ^ "Memphis Zoo: Art Contest Winners". Archived from the original on October 18, 2009.
  14. ^ Staff, Jerica Phillips, WMCActionNews5 com. "Sneak Peek: Zambezi River Hippo Camp to open at Memphis Zoo".
  15. ^ "Memphis Zoo: Facilities and amenities". Archived from the original on January 27, 2010.
  16. ^ a b c d e "Teton Trek". Memphis Zoo. 3 June 2009. Archived from the original on 3 June 2009.
  17. ^ "Memphis Zoo: Teton Trek". Archived from the original on June 3, 2009.
  18. ^ "Memphis Zoo: Teton Trek Press Kit" (PDF).
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h "East Zone Exhibits". Archived from the original on 20 July 2006.
  20. ^ a b c "Memphis Zoo". Memphis Zoological Association (Used with permission). Retrieved 2008-09-16.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Central Zone Exhibits". Archived from the original on 21 July 2006.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i "West Zone Exhibits". Archived from the original on 17 July 2006.
  23. ^ "Tiger attacks stray dog at Memphis zoo". 2008-01-09. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  24. ^ "Human error blamed in tiger bite incident at Memphis Zoo". Big Cat Rescue. 2009-05-27. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  25. ^ Sells, Toby. "What We Can't Know: Memphis Zoo Shooting Video". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  26. ^ "Memphis Zoo: Plants". Archived from the original on January 19, 2010.
  27. ^ "Memphis Zoo: Plant blogs". Archived from the original on November 23, 2009.
  28. ^ "Memphis Zoo: Butterfly garden". Archived from the original on March 23, 2010.
  29. ^ "Memphis Zoo Lights kicks off November 20th with annual Tree Lighting Ceremony". 12 November 2020. Retrieved 2021-02-11.
  30. ^ "Memphis Zoo: Always something to do".
  31. ^ "ExZooberance".

External links