The Denver Zoo is an 80-acre (32 ha) facility located in City Park of Denver, Colorado, USA. Founded in 1896, it is owned by the City and County of Denver and funded in part by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). It was the most popular paid attraction in the Denver metropolitan area in 2005.
The Denver zoo was started with the donation of an orphaned American black bear. With the construction of Bear Mountain, it became the first zoo in the United States to use naturalistic zoo enclosures rather than cages with bars. It expanded on this concept with Primate Panorama with its huge mesh tents and open areas for apes and monkeys, and Predator Ridge, which has three separate areas through which animals are rotated so that their overlapping scents provide environmental enrichment. Toyota Elephant Passage (which opened on June 1, 2012) is divided into five areas for rotating the various species.
The Denver zoo was founded in 1896 when an orphaned American black bear cub named Billy Bryan – short for William Jennings Bryan after the contemporary American politician – was given to Thomas S. McMurry (mayor of Denver from 1895–1899) as a gift. McMurry gave the hard-to-manage cub to the keeper of City Park, Alexander J. Graham, who started the zoo with this animal. Other animals at the young zoo included native waterfowl at Duck Lake, native prairie dogs and antelope which roamed the park, and a flock of Chinese pheasants, which later populated the eastern plains of the state.
The zoo was a motley menagerie until 1906, when Mayor Robert W. Speer declared that the zoo's "[p]rison bars can be done away with" in favor of "concrete rocks, waterfalls, trees, etc." Speer hired the city's landscape architect, Saco R. DeBoer, to draw up the plans for his renovation and appointed Victor H. Borcherdt as zoo director.
The Denver Zoo houses species from all over the World, including hoofed mammals, carnivorous mammals, primates, pachyderms, birds, reptiles, and fish. The zoo is laid out in a large loop, with exhibits both inside and outside the loop. Current exhibits (in 2010) include the following:
This historic exhibit, originally opened in 1918, is one of the first natural-style zoo exhibits in North America, and the first to use simulated concrete rocks. It underwent a $250,000 restoration between 1987 and 1989, and is now home to grizzly bears, Asiatic black bears, and coati.
Primate Panorama spreads over 7 acres (2.8 ha) and primarily houses apes and other larger primates. Tree-dwelling apes and monkeys live in open-air wire mesh tents that soar four stories high and cover more than an acre of ground. Inside these tents, the primates can play and climb on twisting vines. Gorillas roam freely, climbing ropes and taking afternoon hammock naps in one of the largest Gorilla habitats in the world. Orangutans have their own outdoor habitat where they can climb trees and swing in hammocks.
The Endangered Species Carousel features hand-carved wooden replicas of some of Denver's most popular residents including a polar bear mom and cubs, giraffes, okapi and baby gorilla, along with many other endangered animals. The Pioneer Train offers a quick trip around the zoo’s carousel meadow filled with beautiful lush foliage, under the shade of 100-year-old trees. Visitors can see American and Chilean flamingos and other waterfowl just outside the Primate Panorama exhibit. Denver Zoo’s Pioneer Train is the first natural gas-powered zoo train in the United States.