History of the Indianapolis Zoo
The concept for the Indianapolis Zoo first emerged in the 1940s when newspaper columnist Lowell Nussbaum began voicing his dream of establishing a zoo in Indianapolis. Through his column “Inside Indianapolis,” which first appeared in the Indianapolis Times and then in the Indianapolis Star, Nussbaum campaigned for a zoo, spurring community leaders into action. By 1944, he and other founders had begun discussing potential sites for the facility. Their ideal was that the Zoo would be supported by admission, in-park sales, contributions and memberships, and that still holds true as the Indianapolis Zoo is the largest privately funded zoos in the country. [more ...]
Momentum for the Zoo slowed during World War II, but Nussbaum and the other founders persevered by collecting animals, planning exhibits and finalizing the location for George Washington Park. Construction began Aug. 6, 1962, and the first Zoo opened at its original East 30th Street location on April 18, 1964. After following his dreams through to reality, Nussbaum later became known as “the father of the Indianapolis Zoo.” [close]
The Washington Park Children’s Zoo
The original Indianapolis Zoo was called the Washington Park Children’s Zoo, and had exhibits with an Asian elephant, penguins, camels, tortoises, buffalos and more! Visitors especially loved the Dutch windmill at the entrance as well as giant replicas of a giraffe and a blue whale, which were icons of the old Zoo. In its inaugural year, the Zoo welcomed 270,000 visitors.
Over the next 22 years, the Indianapolis Zoo encountered many additions and changes. Partly through donations of personal “pets” such as monkeys, large cats, zebras, wallabies, alligators and more, the collection had doubled in size by the Zoo’s 20th anniversary. The designation of a children’s zoo had outlasted its use and the Zoo needed a new, bigger site.
A vision for a new, world-class Zoo began to emerge in 1982. In addition to having more space, Zoo officials wanted the new location to be in a more visible and accessible site in the heart of Indianapolis to attract more visitors. They found the ideal location in the newly incorporated White River State Park. The Zoo’s founders also knew it would be important to preserve natural habitats, showcase diversity in species, and observe natural behaviors to help save endangered species in the wild. Central to this plan was the concept of a cage-less zoo, one with exhibits that simulated the animals’ natural environments. The shift in how the exhibits are presented was because, since the Indianapolis Zoo's 1964 opening, zoos had become more than a place to see animals; they are institutions of conservation and education. [close]
Attended by state and local dignitaries, important Zoo
supporters and even a few animals, the new facility broke ground in September
1985 in White River State Park. The new Indianapolis Zoo was the first
attraction to open in White River State Park.
As construction on the new facility neared an end, the
23-year run of the old Zoo came to a close, and on Nov. 1, 1987, the Washington
Park Children’s Zoo closed its gates for the last time. With the arrival of new
animals, the new Zoo grew to five times its former size. Before the opening,
staff continued training and working hard to adapt to new exhibits, equipment
and employees. One of the biggest challenges was relocating the Zoo’s 500
animals, which took weeks to prepare for and execute.
The new Indianapolis Zoo officially opened to the public on
June 11, 1988. On that day, admission was $10, which included a commemorative
admission ticket and full access to the “Do the New Zoo” Grand Opening
The new Zoo includes five exhibits, or biomes: Waters,
showcasing more than 200 species of aquatic life from the world’s oceans, seas,
rivers and ponds; Deserts, highlighting life in desert habitats around the
globe; Plains, including animals of both the African and Australian plains; Forests,
featuring animals of temperate and tropical forests; and Encounters, provide
up-close experiences with domestic animals from around the world. Other main
features of the new Zoo include an antique carousel and two 20th century
reproduction horse-drawn streetcars, the tracks for which can still be seen
winding through Zoo grounds.
In the nearly five decades since the first Zoo
opened its doors, many things have changed about the Indianapolis Zoo. Yet one
thing remains unchanged — the vision of Lowell Nussbaum to provide the people
of Indianapolis and surrounding areas with a place to learn from and be
inspired by animals. That vision is reflected even today in the mission of the
Indianapolis Zoo: to empower people and communities, both locally and globally,
to advance animal conservation. [close]
As the first major development undertaken by the
Indianapolis Zoological Society since the Indianapolis Zoo opened at its
current White River State Park location in 1988, the addition of White River
Gardens broke ground in October 1997. The Gardens’ designers intended to
present traditional garden elements in a contemporary way, and White River
Gardens is not the traditional garden that most people imagine.
White River Gardens formally opened to the public on June
13, 1999. The Zoo and Gardens share the same main entrance; however, the
Gardens were initially maintained as a separate attraction until 2006 when it
was included as part of the Indianapolis Zoo. Central to White River Gardens
are the more than 16,000 plants, including both native and exotic species, many
of which are rare or historic in value. The Gardens also include a
glass-enclosed conservatory, outdoor design gardens, water garden, numerous
artistic fountains and features, a wedding garden for ceremonies and
receptions, 1.5 miles of winding paths and walkways, and an indoor/outdoor
dining facility with a dramatic view of the downtown skyline and riverfront.
While visitors will recognize a traditional
formality in the Garden design, they will find much of the detail refreshingly
new. It's really more of an idea garden where visitors can see and experience innovative garden displays and gather
inspiration and information to help them transform their home gardens. [close]