Houston Zoo
The Houston Zoo is a 55 acres (22.3 ha) zoological park located within Hermann Park
Hermann Park
Hermann Park is one of Houston's most-visited public parks. Situated between Fannin Street and Cambridge Street, it is within walking distance from the Texas Medical Center, Rice University, and the Museum District, and within a few miles of the Third Ward, the historic Astrodome and Reliant Stadium...

 in Houston, Texas, United States. Housing over 6,000 animals belonging to over 900 species, the zoo receives 1.6 million visitors each year and is the seventh most visited zoo in the nation. The zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums was founded in 1924 and is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and public aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation.The AZA headquarters is located in Silver...


The Houston Zoo's mission statement is "The Houston Zoo provides a fun, unique, and inspirational experience fostering appreciation, knowledge, and care for the natural world."


On the edge of downtown in the early 1900s, Sam Houston Park was home to the city’s first zoo – a collection of rabbits, raccoons, Mexican eagles, black bear, a great horned owl, capuchin monkeys, prairie dogs, and an alligator pond. In 1920, the Federal government donated a bison to the City of Houston. The bison, named Earl, was added to the growing collection of zoo animals at Sam Houston Park and sparked a civic debate as Houstonians began talking earnestly about improving and expanding the zoo.

In 1921, the City purchased an assortment of snakes, birds, and alligators and in 1922 erected a fence around a tract of land in Hermann Park to house the collection. In short order the City hired the first zoo keeper, Hans Nagel who was responsible for the care of the Zoo’s 40 animals. By 1925, Nagel had become zoo director and the Zoo’s population had grown to 400 animals including Asian elephants Nellie and Hans. The zoo grew to thirty fenced acres and included a monkey house and a pool built for three donated sea lions.

As the years passed, the City added animals, keepers, and exhibits. Between 1925 and 1938 a museum, lion house, and an elephant house were built. By 1938, the Zoo represented an investment of approximately $50,000, roughly equivalent to $750,000 by today’s standards. In the immediate post World War Two era, from 1950 to 1960 the Zoo added the Reptile House, bear, large cats, and giraffe exhibits and completed the sea lion pool, Duck Lake and the Central Concession building.

The period from 1960 to 1970 saw a revived era of construction and expansion with the construction of the Zoo’s first Children’s Zoo, the Small Mammal House (now the Natural Encounters Building), and the Tropical Bird House. Between 1970 and 1976, under the guidance of then-director John Werler, education became increasingly emphasized and a group of 125 volunteers was organized to interact with guests and provide information about animals and exhibits.

The 1980s brought construction of the Kipp Aquarium and the Denton Cooley Animal Hospital. Between 1985 and 1988, the Zoo completed construction of the African lion, Indochinese tiger and small cat exhibits. The Brown Education Center was dedicated in April 1988.

In January, 1989, after being accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Houston Zoo initiated its first public admission fee and introduced a “new zoo” to the City. Nearly $1 million in improvements were unveiled including the new McGovern Mammal Marina for sea lions and a newly renovated Reptile House.

The $7.5 million Wortham World of Primates opened in 1993 and in 1995 the Zoo celebrated its 75th anniversary. The 1990s saw the renovation of the Tropical Bird House, the expansion of the Kipp Aquarium and the construction of a new gift shop and office facility at the Zoo’s main entrance. The Zoo’s Koala Crossing opened in 1999 and the new $6 million McGovern Children’s Zoo made its debut in 2000 along with the zoo’s new West Entry (now Medical Center Gate).

In 2002, the Houston Zoo entered a new era of non-profit management under a public-private partnership with the City of Houston and improvements and new exhibits quickly followed.

In April 2003, the zoo opened the giant eland exhibit, becoming the first zoo in Texas to exhibit these regal animals, the world’s largest antelope. In 2003, the zoo reopened the spectacled bear exhibit following a $1 million renovation. The Wildlife Carousel opened near the Children’s zoo in 2004 and in 2005 the Zoo opened the Natural Encounters Building, representing a new approach to zoo exhibitry with interactive keeper chats and presentations every half-hour. In 2006, summers in the McGovern Children’s Zoo took on a new look with the addition of a water playground. In 2008, the zoo welcomed African wild dogs opened an expanded Asian elephant habitat.

The zoo did not have admission fees until 1988, when they were first established by former mayor Kathryn J. Whitmire
Kathryn J. Whitmire
Kathryn Jean "Kathy" Whitmire was Mayor of the city of Houston, Texas, from 1982 to 1991.Whitmire was a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she taught political science classes in the Burns Leadership Academy. Whitmire was the daughter of Ida Reeves and Karl Niederhofer, a...


The newest project is the African Forest, a $100 million project that took years to complete; the first phase was completed in December 2010. The African Forest vividly recreates an awe-inspiring wilderness habitat featuring chimpanzees, rhinos, and giraffes in an environment reminiscent of the forest landscape of western equatorial Africa.

Exhibits and facilities

  • The Reptile and Amphibian Building, constructed in 1960, is the primary facility for reptile
    Reptiles are members of a class of air-breathing, ectothermic vertebrates which are characterized by laying shelled eggs , and having skin covered in scales and/or scutes. They are tetrapods, either having four limbs or being descended from four-limbed ancestors...

     and amphibian
    Amphibians , are a class of vertebrate animals including animals such as toads, frogs, caecilians, and salamanders. They are characterized as non-amniote ectothermic tetrapods...

     species. It contains eighty separate displays housing more than 300 specimens. The house includes one of only fourteen leucistic
    Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation in animals and humans. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin.- Details :...

     American alligator
    American Alligator
    The American alligator , sometimes referred to colloquially as a gator, is a reptile endemic only to the Southeastern United States. It is one of the two living species of alligator, in the genus Alligator, within the family Alligatoridae...

     exhibits in the world.
  • The John P. McGovern Children's Zoo provides animal habitats designed to allow guests to get closer to the animals with a special focus on native Texas wildlife. Exhibits include a bat cave, a bald eagle roost, prairie dog tunnels, a coastal pool, and a glass-walled otter habitat where guests can see the otters swimming. The children's zoo includes an area where children can touch and pet domestic animals such as goats and cows. The water play area of the Children's Zoo was permanently closed in 2011. A new water play area will be constructed just inside the west entrance to the zoo.
  • The Wildlife Carousel found just outside of the Children's Zoo was opened May 1, 2004 and features hand carved wooden animals of exotic and native species many of which can be found at the zoo. It is the only carousel to feature the nine-banded armadillo as a carousel figure. The animals were carved by craftsmen from Carousel Works based in Mansfield, Ohio.
  • The zoo houses 900 specimens of over 230 species of birds in multiple facilities, including the Fischer Bird Gardens, Duck Lake, Birds of the World, and the Tropical Bird House which includes an open-air, walk through aviary.
  • Over one thousand fish and marine animals from around the world are housed in the Herbert A. & Elizabeth N. Kipp Memorial Aquarium.
  • Janice Suber McNair Asian Elephant Habitat On June 22, 2008, the Houston Zoo celebrated the completion of the first phase of the new elephant facility at the Asian Elephant Habitat. The 7000 square feet (650.3 m²) elephant barn, additional outdoor areas, and an improved viewing area are the first phase of a two-phase program to expand the elephant habitat at the Zoo. Phase two of the elephant expansion was completed in October 2011 and featured a large new exhibit yard to supplement the two existing yards, a pool big enough for multiple elephants, new interpretive signage, and a small area for demonstration of husbandry behaviors. The exhibit is home to adult bull Thai, adult cows Methai, Shanti, and Tess, juvenile bull Tucker (Tess' son), and calves Baylor (Shanti's son) and Tupelo (Tess' daughter).
  • Located in the heart of the Zoo, Wortham World of Primates offers up close viewing of some of the world’s most fascinating and intelligent creatures. The area features a raised wooden boardwalk that allows guests to view exhibits from multiple levels.
  • The Ethel G. and Allen H. Carruth Natural Encounters Building, opened in 2005, contains multi-species exhibits representing seven different ecosystems, including the River's Edge, Rainforest Canopy, Dry Lands, the Coral Reef, a bat cave, mole rat tunnels, and a meerkat habitat.
  • The African Forest Phase one opened in December 2010. Covering 6.5 acres (26,304.6 m²) of woodland, it features chimpanzees, rhinos, kudu, and giraffes. By incorporating storytelling revolving around an original character named Gorilla Tommy, who started life as a poacher and later became a conservationist, the exhibit develops multiple layers of interpretation and enjoyment. The African Forest allows visitors to explore and learn in different ways – through traditional signage, interactive elements, and up-close viewing of the animals including daily opportunities to hand feed the Zoo's giraffes.


The zoo is an active partner in the AZA
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums was founded in 1924 and is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and public aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation.The AZA headquarters is located in Silver...

's Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program, a population management and conservation program for selected species housed in North American zoos.

The zoo supports forty SSP conservation
Wildlife conservation
Wildlife conservation is the preservation, protection, or restoration of wildlife and their environment, especially in relation to endangered and vulnerable species. All living non-domesticated animals, even if bred, hatched or born in captivity, are considered wild animals. Wildlife represents all...

 projects that assist in the survival of threatened wildlife and habitats. Wildlife conservation projects include the Houston Toad
Houston toad
The Houston toad is an endangered species of amphibian that is endemic to Texas in the United States. This toad was discovered in the late 1940s and named in 1953...

, Wyoming Toad
Wyoming Toad
The Wyoming Toad or Baxter's Toad is an extremely rare amphibian that exists only in captivity and within Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. state of Wyoming. The Wyoming Toad was listed as an endangered species in 1984, and listed as extinct in the wild since 1991...

, golden frog, Attwater's Prairie Chicken
Attwater's Prairie Chicken
Attwater's Prairie Chicken is a highly endangered subspecies of the Greater Prairie Chicken that is native to coastal Texas and Louisiana in the United States.-Description:...

, chimney swift
Chimney Swift
The Chimney Swift is a small bird .-Physical description:In flight, this bird looks like a flying cigar with long slender curved wings. The plumage is a sooty grey-brown; the throat, breast, underwings and rump are paler. They have short tails.-Reproduction:The breeding season of Chimney Swifts is...

, Bornean orangutans and Asian elephants, Komodo dragon
Komodo dragon
The Komodo dragon , also known as the Komodo monitor, is a large species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Gili Dasami. A member of the monitor lizard family , it is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of in rare cases...

, Malayan tiger
Malayan Tiger
The Malayan tiger is a tiger subspecies that inhabits the southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula and has been classified as endangered by IUCN in 2008 as the population was estimated at 493 to 1,480 adult individuals in 2003; none of the three subpopulations likely harbors more than 250...

, Spectacled bear
Spectacled Bear
The spectacled bear , also known as the Andean bear and locally as ukuko, jukumari or ucumari, is the last remaining short-faced bear and the closest living relative to the Florida spectacled bear and short-faced bears of the Middle Pleistocene to Late Pleistocene age.The spectacled bear is a...

, Clouded leopard
Clouded Leopard
The clouded leopard is a felid found from the Himalayan foothills through mainland Southeast Asia into China, and has been classified as vulnerable in 2008 by IUCN...

, red panda
Red Panda
The red panda , is a small arboreal mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. It is the only species of the genus Ailurus. Slightly larger than a domestic cat, it has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs...

 and numerous other endangered animals.

Curators of the zoo are involved with the AZA Taxon Advisory Groups, animal experts responsible for making recommendations and evaluations for rearing of species at other zoo facilities.


The zoo is served by bus service provided by Metro
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas
The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is a major public transportation agency based in Houston . It operates bus, light rail, future commuter rail, and paratransit service in the city as well as most of Harris County...

 and an offsite station on the Red Line of the METRORail
METRORail is the light rail line in Houston . It is the second major light rail service in Texas following the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system. With an approximate daily ridership of 34,155, the METRORail ranks as the fourteenth most-traveled light rail system in the United States, with the...

 light rail
Light rail
Light rail or light rail transit is a form of urban rail public transportation that generally has a lower capacity and lower speed than heavy rail and metro systems, but higher capacity and higher speed than traditional street-running tram systems...

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