Fort Worth Zoo celebrates diverse 100-year history
From meager beginnings the Zoo has grown into a nationally ranked family attraction
FORT WORTH, TX— The oldest zoo in Texas, the Fort Worth Zoo was founded in 1909 with one lion, two bear cubs, an alligator, a coyote, a peacock and a few rabbits. From these humble beginnings, the Zoo has grown into a nationally ranked facility, housing more than 5,000 native and exotic animals.
From 1909 to October 1991, the Fort Worth Zoo was owned as well as operated by the City of Fort Worth. During the city's tenure, a long-standing tradition began of collecting money from the community to purchase animals for the Zoo. In 1939, the Zoological Society (now the Fort Worth Zoological Association) formed as a non-profit organization to help raise additional funds to purchase even more animals.
In October 1991— with the Zoo facing decreasing city support, demands to replace outdated animal housing and declines in attendance— the Association assumed management of the Zoo's day-to-day operations under a contract with the City of Fort Worth. Since 1991, the Association has raised more than $20 million from private entities, foundations and corporations for Zoo improvements and new exhibits. In 1992, the Zoo hosted a grand reopening, unveiling two new exhibits— World of Primates and Asian Falls— and numerous improvements throughout the Zoo. Within the first year, Zoo attendance soared to approximately one million visitors in a fiscal year— almost double the previous year— and has maintained ever since.
Since 1992, the Zoo has opened 16 permanent exhibits and support facilities, virtually creating a new zoo. Ten years of improvements and Association management was celebrated with the addition of Texas Wild! in 2001, which houses seven distinct exhibits within an 8-acre complex. The following new features have been opened since the Association assumed management of the Zoo:
- 1992: World of Primates, Asian Falls
- 1993: Raptor Canyon, Asian Rhino Ridge, Gloria
Lupton Tennison Education Center, Portraits of the Wild Art Gallery
- 1994: Chee·tos Cheetahs
- 1995: Flamingo Bay, FUJIFILM Komodo Dragons, Terminix
- 1997: Meerkat Mounds
- 1998: Burnet Animal Health and Science Center
- 1999: Thundering Plains (now closed)
- 2001: Texas Wild!
- 2004: Parrot Paradise
- 2005: Great Barrier Reef
- 2008: Penguins
- 2010: Museum of Living Art (MOLA)
In addition to these new exhibits, substantial improvements have been made to Zoo facilities, including handicap accessibility as defined by ADA standards, as well as improvements to restrooms, shade structures, walkways, food outlets, picnic areas, animal areas and exhibit space.
Public reaction to the Zoo's renaissance has been tremendous, making the Fort Worth Zoo one of the most popular attractions in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The Zoo has been ranked the no. 5 zoo in the nation by USA Travel Guide, a top zoo by Family Life magazine, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today, one of the top zoo's in the South by Southern Living Reader's Choice Awards, and named the number one attraction in the Dallas/ Fort Worth Metroplex by Zagat Survey U.S. Family Travel Guide.