Philly Zoo Turns 150

The Philadelphia Zoo celebrates is sesquicentennial anniversary, a nice change of pace from the recent gloom-and-doom news about zoos across the country.

Tomorrow, the Philadelphia Zoo—the oldest in America—turns 150, and the whole zoo family plans to party like, well, animals. Opening weekend of the sesquicentennial will include a barbershop quartet, brass bands, and old-fashioned games and amusements. Visitors can even bring “gifts” like toys and snacks for their favorite animals.

The zoo certainly has reason to celebrate. Since the 1859 charter that resulted in the Zoological Society of Philadelphia (a precursor to the present zoo) and 15 years later, the zoo itself, this Philly landmark has seen a bunch of firsts: first children’s zoo in the western hemisphere; the earliest animal-health lab on zoo grounds; the first successful births of an orangutan, a chimpanzee, and a cheetah in a U.S. facility.

Today, the zoo is still making strides. This spring, it will celebrate the second birthday of three Amur tigers, an endangered big cat whose numbers hover around 500. And in May, it plans to open a newly renovated avian center that will house hammerkops, rhinoceros hornbills and almost 100 other bird species, adding to a roster that already boasts about 1,300 animal species. (For interested birder-architects, a birdhouse-building contest is taking place before the center’s opening.)

This news is a nice change of pace from the recent gloom-and-doom reported about facilities like the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, which struggles to stay afloat after a September 2008, $200,000 cut in state funding, or New York’s 76 “living museums”—the zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens—that will likely receive no funding in the state’s final 2009 budget.

The Philadelphia Zoo is one of the lucky ones, seeing an increase in both its visitor numbers and yearly revenue from 2006 to 2007 (the most recent data available). But it seems to be the exception. I sometimes wonder whether we take for granted that these living museums exist in our backyards. How can we help other zoos reach their sesquicentennial anniversaries?

It’s pretty simple: Petition local and state government to continue providing funding. Donate to the zoos—every dollar helps. And go see the animals for yourself. Adult admission to the Philadelphia Zoo costs just $18, less than the price of two people going out to one dinner. Plus, you get to see some pretty cool animals.

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