The Queens Zoo in Flushing Meadows Corona Park opened October 26, 1968 on the grounds of the 1964 – 65 World’s Fair. Queens was the last New York city borough to get its own zoo. Former NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, via his Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, was partially responsible for Flushing Meadows Corona Park’s transformation from World’s Fair site to city park (temporary control of the site had been given to the World’s Fair Committee before it reverted to city property). Moses, who as former Parks Commissioner responsible for a large revitalization program of city parks, playgrounds and zoos, wanted a zoo without any cages, where animals would be separated from onlookers only by moats and lakes. He did cut the ceremonial ribbon.
The 5 hectare zoo featured, right from the beginning, North American animals and birds in naturalistic settings, including bears, bison, wolves, water fowl, raccoons, otters, a coyote, a mountain lion, and an insect house. It has the feeling of a small National Park. The geodesic dome that served as the Winston Churchill Pavilion during the 1964 – 65 World’s Fair, designed by Buckminster Fuller, became an aviary with a spiral walkway and screens that let air circulate through the structure.
In advance of the Zoo’s opening, its farm zoo opened February 28, 1968, and allowed city children to experience what it was like to get close to a chicken, goat, cow, or rooster. The farm zoo was renovated along with the rest of the zoo in the early 1990s.
Early on, the zoo was plagued by poor employee training and the city’s severe fiscal crisis during the 1970s. In 1979, a little more than ten years after its opening, officials derided the Queens Zoo as a “poor man’s zoo” and called attention to the dilapidated condition and underfunding of the zoo. The aviary already had been closed for years, several wolves had been able to evade zookeepers, and the sea lion pool actually was home to only a few beavers. The last of the three city-run zoos to be built, it would soon be completely renovated when the New York Zoological Society (now Wildlife Conservation Society) assumed responsibility of it and the Central Park and Prospect Park zoos. The Queens Zoo reopened to the public on June 25, 1992 after a four-year, 16 million dollar, renovation, redesign, and reconceptualization, being delayed because of a shortage of operating funds. Since then, the zoo is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Currently, the Zoo is home to animals native to North ánd South America. It is the only one of the five zoos in New York City to exhibit Spectacled bears. In addition, there is a petting zoo with a variety of domestic animals (to be found opposite the Zoo entrance across the park’s driveway). Pathways at the zoo lead visitors to pockets of wild habitats, from the Great Plains to a rocky California coast to a Northeast forest. American species on display include American bison, mountain lions, California sea lions, American bald eagles, and Roosevelt elk. One of the Queens Zoo’s animal celebrities is “Otis,” a coyote rescued from Central Park in 1999 and still a resident.
The Queens Zoo is part of an integrated system of four zoos and one aquarium managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
(Sources: website NYC department of Parks & Recreation; Wikipedia; New York City Zoos and Aquarium by Joan Scheier, 2005)