Founded on April 26, 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) was one of the first conservation organizations in the U.S. The Society’s original objectives were: “to establish and maintain a zoological garden for the purpose of encouraging the study of zoology, original researches in the same and kindred subjects, and of furnishing instructions and recreation to the people”. To advance wildlife conservation was added to the objectives not much later. This started with preservation of native animals of North America as a combined effort with other organisations, and has evolved into a huge wildlife conservation programme (see website WCS).
The Bronx Zoo opened its gates to the public on November 8, 1899, with a collection of 843 specimens representing 157 species. Soon it joined the ranks of New York City’s most beloved cultural institutions. William T. Hornaday, who failed to be appointed director of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., became the first director of the New York Zoological Park, now Bronx Zoo. This allowed him to implement his ideas concerning zoo management finally, and in the process he set the standard for other American zoos. Besides this the NY Zoological Society were the first to establish an American zoo-related scientific journal (published from 1907 to 1973), to establish a veterinary clinic (in 1916), to develop a zoo-based field research programme (1916). The Zoo was also instrumental in saving the American bison from extinction.
Bronx Zoo was certainly not the first to implement Carl Hagenbeck’s ideas on modern design of open, moated enclosures without bars. This honour was reserved for Denver Zoo (1918), St. Louis Zoo (1919) and Detroit Zoo (1920). The introduction of the barless concept took only place after WWI, because of America’s attention for the European conflicts. The Zoo even got involved in 1917 when the lion house was turned over to the American Red Cross and a company of soldiers (zoo employees) was formed at the WCS expense. Nevertheless American zoos fared better than did European zoos. This enabled NY Zoological Park to help Antwerp Zoo to re-populate their premises with 329 animals after the war.
The initial success of the New York Zoological Park led WCS to acquire four more wildlife parks over the course of the twentieth century. In 1902, WCS took over management of the New York Aquarium, then in Manhattan’s Battery Park, and in the mid-1950s, relocated it to Coney Island, Brooklyn. In 1988, the former menagerie in Manhattan’s Central Park reopened as WCS’s Central Park Zoo. The Queens Zoo and Prospect Park Zoo opened in 1992 and 1993, respectively. Together, the five parks draw more than 4 million visitors a year.
(Sources: website Bronx Zoo, and “Zoo and Aquarium History” by Vernon N. Kisling, jr.)
Although on a regular weekday it was a busy day at the zoo, with visitors I mean. But what can you expect on a sunny day in a city that attracts lots of tourists. It’s always the same with me, on the one hand I want to have the place for myself, but on the other hand I know that wouldn’t last. No zoo would survive when the visitor numbers decreased to the number I favour during my visit. Especially when you realise that the economic crisis make city councils decide to stop the flow of subsidies.
Fortunately I allowed a full day for my visit and arrived really early. Therefore, it was not until I got to the Congo Gorilla Forest when the crowd for the first time bothered me. As you have to buy an additional ticket for this exhibit, many people queued at the ticket booth. I already saw the Gorilla exhibit two years ago, and I think it is not very decent to ask for an additional entrance fee for a specific exhibit on top of the regular entrance fee, so I decided to skip the gorillas. But that was more or less the only time I was disappointed and bothered by the crowd, because Bronx Zoo is huge and visitors disperse themselves over a large area. The fact that some parts of the grounds are not used for exhibits or administration buildings, but still resemble the Bronx park as it was before the Zoo was established, provides the visitor with some peace and quiet. It is a park with some animals that are kept in captivity, and not a zoo with some artificial nature.
The Zoo’s lay-out is mainly focussed on habitats and not on continents, which leads to a situation that species from different continents can be kept close together. But this is not consistent in all parts of the zoological park, while for instance Jungle World and Madagascar who represent comparable habitats (more or less) are situated at opposite sites of the park grounds. For educational value this might be not very beneficial, as it can help to understand evolution and bio-geographical developments while observing how different species are on the island of Madagascar, while being so close to the African mainland species.
Like other older zoos Bronx Zoo is trying to adapt to the new ideas of keeping animals in captivity and nature conservation, but this requires resources and time. So, some older buildings/enclosures are being refurbished and/or getting a new purpose.
At the Jungle World there are several habitats provided, such as scrub forest, mangrove forest, lowland evergreen rainforest, lower montane rainforest and diverse tropical forest which is mainly hot and humid. Most exhibits are mixed species enclosures in the Jungle World. In a modest enriched enclosure eight Asian small-clawed otters are living together with two Matschie’s tree kangaroos (Dendrolagus matschies). Next, following the elevated footpath visitors arrive at the mangrove forest with Javan langurs (Trachypithecus auratus), which show themselves in a beautiful environment but have no place to hide from the visitor. In the rainforest that follows when continuing the journey the silvered leaf monkey (Presbytis cristata), white-cheeked gibbon (Hylobates concolor) and Bali mynah enjoy an excellent enclosure with lots of water, waterfalls, trees, lianas and hiding places. The Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) has been provided with a naturalistic habitat, but its living quarters is very small — just a small sandy beach below the beautiful rainforest. The two black panthers hunting instinct must be triggered constantly with their view on the monkeys through the windows that separate them from the other enclosures. I really doubt if this is an animal friendly environment for the panthers (predator), and neither for the monkeys (prey), when there is permanent visual contact between them. But, perhaps the instinct and reflex behaviour disappears soon when no consequences are to be experienced from the visual contact.
The African continent part at Bronx Zoo has got one of the first exhibits in North-America that incorporates both predators and prey species in a naturalistic setting. This means that the Nyala enclosure which adjoins the African lion enclosure, although separated by moats, gives the visitor the impression they see an African plain where Nyala, slender-horned gazelle (Gazella leptoceros) and lion live together, peaceful or not. This exhibit opened in 1941. Bronx Zoo has bred Nyalas since 1939, and more than 100 calves has been born since. In another part of the African plains Thomson gazelle, Blesbok, common crane and Grevy zebra populate the huge, beautiful meadow with trees and shrubs. The elevation of the grounds is used very effectively to provide excellent views. The African lion enclosure, with its historical relevance as mentioned before, was a disappointment. A complete bare environment where the lions are continuously exposed to the ever so loud public. This must be the reason that the lioness with her cubs, born 27.01.2010, are not around. Just her two companions (male and female), in a perfect condition, are there to admire.
T he African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) have plenty of enrichment and space at their disposal. The ten dogs I discovered lying around in the enclosure with grass, trees, sand, rocks and a pool, are provided with a variety of enrichments. Such as scent trails, toys and hidden feed, all designed to stimulate their natural behaviour. At one of the viewing posts there is a picture of an enrichment tool which requires two dogs to work together to receive a treat. Very interesting and cleverly designed, but I haven’t identified the tool in the enclosure at the time.
Then there is the Ethiopian Baboon Reserve. A grand mixed species exhibit that absolutely surprised me the way it is designed, simple but effective. The enclosure consists of a large meadow with some rocks and bushes, but the hillside really does the trick. It provides sufficient space for the hyrax, Nubian ibex and Gelada baboons to avoid each other and the hill mimics the high altitude grassland which is the natural habitat of Geladas (Theropithecus gelada). This is different from the habitat of other baboon species, which live in woodlands and the savannah.
Both bear enclosures are good examples of exhibit design according to Hagenbeck, and could use some updating. The grizzly bear, which has to share its enclosure with a brown bear, as well as the polar bear have moats that separate them from the public at the front side, and a rock face at the back of the enclosure. But both enclosures lack enrichment and hiding places, while the white painted rocks in the polar bear exhibit look extremely fake. I prefer the way the polar bears in Central Park Zoo are housed.
In the Himalayan Highlands two snow leopards are kept, each in its own enclosure. The resident snow leopard is kept in a large cage-like construction with a rock face and a rocky bedding with some trees. Unfortunately the animal cannot climb the rock face, let alone lie on ridges. Though the enclosure is quite large it does not suffice considering the enormous territory a snow leopard occupies in the Himalayas. Of course no captive situation can match such a large area, but to say it in other words: I have seen better snow leopard enclosures, like in Helsinki Zoo and even next-door for the visiting snow leopard. This snow leopard from Pakistan Zoo, which was orphaned as a cub, will return to Pakistan as soon as its new facilities are ready. In the meantime it has got the enclosure with a rock face which can be climbed and provides high level observation posts.
Another species that can be seen in the Himalayan Highlands is the red panda. The sole specimen I have seen has got access to a fantastic enclosure with lots of trees and foliage, and many opportunities to hide.
The greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) was not on display during my visit. The animal was just moved to its new environment, the former elephant enclosure with an inside house which is part of the old building called the Zoo Centre, and was given some time to adjust to the new situation. The outside parts of the new rhino exhibit is nice and large, but nothing fancy. The elephants were moved and added to the elephants in the other elephant exhibit, which can only be reached via the Wild Asia Monorail. This Wild Asia exhibit was scheduled to be opened on 1st of May, so unfortunately I could not visit it. According the information provided you can “sit back and relax as you travel above mud wallows and pastures, forests and riverbanks to the heart of Wild Asia. A guided tour will help you spot a wide array of animals along the way, including tigers, elephants, and rhinos.”
A final remark to be made concerns both the Madagascar and Jungle World exhibit. These interesting exhibits have beautiful mixed species enclosures, but all of them are inside. None of the animals have outdoor access, which is a bit amazing, because the New York climate does allow these tropical species to be kept outside in summertime. And according to the renown Gerald Durrell, tropical species can be kept outside even in moderate climate regions, provided the animals are allowed sufficient time to acclimatise, which he proved at his Zoo on Jersey island.
Congo Gorilla Forest:
More than 20 Gorillas live in this great enclosure; especially the walk-through between the glass panes is very impressive. It seems that the gorillas love to see people’s reaction to some of their disgusting habits, like eating faeces at the moment of production. The Gorilla Forest is an enormous enclosure that mimics the gorilla’s habitat in Africa, except that the forest perhaps is not as dense as in real nature. Furthermore, this exhibit is more than just a gorilla enclosure. It consists of several separate consecutive enclosures of which the name clearly explains what to expect: rain forest trail, colobus trees, okapi jungle, mandrill forest, gorilla encounter, and gorilla forest overlook.The camelback-riding is a relic from the past that soon will be history I hope. On second thoughts, this has been a way how Zoo management entertained the public all over the world since public zoos came into existence. The same public that wants to be entertained and pay money for it, which is one of the resources that enables the Zoo to do their essential work regarding nature conservation! In addition it is an opportunity to exercise the camels, which should be done anyway. So, I should not be too harsh on this circus act, and set aside my personal opinion on this.
Two 13 year old Amur tiger litter mates occupy the two enclosures of Tiger Mountain. These two modern enclosures give the animals the opportunity to rest and hide away from the public. The same public that eagerly will wait behind the glass window panes the emergence of the large predators. They have developed several tricks to exercise the tigers. The tigers are housed separately and rotate on a daily basis over the outside enclosures, which provide them the opportunity to stay in contact via the scent trails they leave for each other. Another kind of enrichment is the way they feed the animals by hiding meat in boxes and using perfume sprayed on boxes to get the animal’s attention and have them occupied for a while. Moreover they developed an enrichment tool which requires tiger force to move a lever that releases a treat.
First Genetically Pure Bison Calf by Embryo Transfer
Since its inception, WCS has worked to save the American bison from extinction, and the Bronx Zoo grounds have housed bison for over one hundred years. Today, new conservation efforts focus on genetic purity in this iconic mammal. Listen and learn as Dr. Pat Thomas, Associate Director of the Bronx Zoo, discusses the birth of the first genetically pure American bison calf produced by embryo transfer:
(Source: WCS, 30.08.2012)
Dr. Pat Thomas of Wildlife Conservation Society explains the role of scents in caring for big cats in zoos and in the wild:
Source: WCS media’s channel on YouTube
Directions to Bronx Zoo
The Zoo is easy to get to from anywhere in the tri-state area. During summer months, the Zoo parking lots can fill up early, and traffic may be redirected to other available parking spaces. If you arrive at the Zoo and experience parking lot closures or extensive traffic delays, we encourage you to use alternative parking, which is available at nearby Fordham University. For your convenience, and in support of the environment, please consider using public transport as your preferred way of travelling.
2300 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, New York City
United States of America
Express Bus from Manhattan
The BxM11 express bus makes stops along Madison Avenue, between 26th and 99th Streets, then travels directly to the Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (Gate B). For your return trip, pick up the bus just outside the same gate at the MTA BxM11 sign (just before the underpass). Click here for a complete BxM11 schedule and fare information.
* In the Bronx, take Bx9 or Bx19 buses to 183rd Street and Southern Blvd, which is the location of the Zoo’s Southern Blvd pedestrian entrance (Gate C). Or take the Bx12 or Bx22 buses to Fordham Road and Southern Blvd, then walk 5 blocks south on Southern Blvd to 183rd Street.
* From Queens, you can take the Q44 to 180th Street and Boston Road. You must then walk north (take a right on Boston Road) one block to the Bronx Zoo’s Asia gate entrance (Gate A).
You can take the #2 or #5 train to the Bronx and get out at West Farms Sq — E Tremont Av station, then walk along Boston road to the Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (Gate B). When you require an ADA(Americans with Disabilities Act)-accessible route: #2 train to Pelham Parkway, or #5 train to Pelham Parkway-White Plains road. This station has three elevators* that lead down to street level. From Pelham Parkway station head west to the Bronx Zoo Gate B.
*Please visit MTA for hours of operation and updates on maintenance and possible closures.
Take Metro North’s Harlem line to Fordham, then take the Bx9 bus eastward to 183rd Street and Southern Blvd.
This is the most environment friendly way of transport. Finding you way in New York City is rather easy, especially in Manhattan. Getting to the Bronx shouldn’t be too difficult. Cycling in NYC is getting more popular, with rental bike shops all around, but you still have to watch out not to ‘be doored’ by an ignorant car/taxi driver or passenger:
For Drivers Using GPS
Using a GPS unit to navigate to the Zoo? We have two main parking lots, one at Southern Boulevard and the other off the Bronx River Parkway. For the Southern Boulevard entrance, please plug the following address into your GPS unit: 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460. To get to the Bronx River entrance, please use the intersection of Bronx River Parkway and Boston Road, Bronx, NY 10460 as your GPS destination.
From Manhattan’s Eastside
FDR Drive North to the RFK Bridge. Follow signs to the Bronx and the Bruckner Expwy. Take Bruckner towards New Haven (stay left); after drawbridge, exit right for the Bronx River Pkwy North. The Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (Gate B) is located at Exit 6 off the Bronx River Pkwy.
From Manhattan’s Westside
Henry Hudson North to Cross Bronx Expwy East (I-95) to Exit 4B. Follow signs to Bronx River Pkwy North (bearing left after the I-95 entrance ramp). The Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (Gate B) is located at Exit 6 off the Bronx River Pkwy.
Henry Hudson north to Mosholu Pkwy (Exit 24). After about 2 miles, the Mosholu turns into a local road with traffic lights. After 8th traffic light, turn right onto Dr. Kazimiroff Blvd, which becomes Southern Blvd. The Zoo is approximately 2 miles down on the left, and the Southern Blvd Entrance (Gate C) can be found at 182nd St.
The Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (Gate B) is located at Exit 6 off the Bronx River Pkwy.
To get to this exit from points north, follow:
* Taconic State Pkwy into Sprain Brook Pkwy South to Bronx River Pkwy South
* Saw Mill River Pkwy or I-87 to Cross County Pkwy East to Bronx River Pkwy South
* I-684 or Hutchinson River Pkwy to Cross County Pkwy West to Bronx River Pkwy South
Take I-95 South to Pelham Pkwy West. Or take Merritt Pkwy South to Hutchinson River Pkwy South to Pelham Pkwy West.
Follow Pelham Pkwy West for 2 miles. Turn left on Boston Road (just after passing under the subway). Turn right at light. The Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (Gate B) is located directly ahead after the underpass.
From New Jersey
Most direct route:George Washington Bridge to Cross Bronx Expwy (I-95) to Exit 4B. Follow signs to the Bronx River Pkwy North (you’ll be bearing left after the I-95 entrance ramp). The Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (Gate B) is located at exit 6 off the Bronx River Pkwy.
Alternate route:Take GW Bridge to the Henry Hudson north (9A) to Mosholu Pkwy (Exit 24). After 8th traffic light, turn right onto Dr. Kazimiroff Blvd, which turns into Southern Blvd. The Zoo is approximately 2 miles down on the left, and the Southern Blvd Entrance (Gate C) can be found at 182nd St.
From Brooklyn, Queens or Long Island
Whitestone Bridge to Hutchinson River Pkwy North to Pelham Pkwy West. Follow Pelham Pkwy West for 2 miles and turn left on Boston Road (just after passing under the subway). Turn right at light. The Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (Gate B) is located directly ahead after the underpass.
OVERFLOW PARKING DIRECTIONS
During summer months, the Bronx River Parking lot (Gate B) fills up early and traffic is redirected to our Southern Blvd parking lot (Gate C). Take the Bronx River Parkway North to Exit 7W (Fordham Road). After the blinking light, exit right. At top of exit ramp, make a left onto Southern Blvd. Gate C can be found at 182nd Street.
If you are redirected from Gate B to the Fordham University Parking Garage, follow Boston Road to the traffic light. Make a left onto Bronx Park East. At the traffic light, make a left onto Pelham Parkway. Follow for about a quarter-mile and you will see the Bronx Zoo’s Fordham Entrance on your left and the Botanical Garden on the right. Follow the signs to the Zoo by bearing right. Do not go under the overpass, stay in the right lane. At the traffic light, cross over Southern Blvd onto East Fordham Road. The entrance to the Fordham University Parking Garage is on your right.
If you are directed onto the southbound entrance to the Bronx River Parkway: Continue straight on the Bronx River Parkway South to Exit 4. Bear left and follow the detour to the Bronx River Parkway North. Take the Bronx River Parkway North to Exit 7W (Fordham Road). Stay in the right lane once you exit, and do not go under the overpass. At the traffic light, cross over Southern Blvd. and continue on East Fordham Road. The entrance to the Fordham University Parking Garage is on your right.
Download the zoo map here.