What began as a tiny downtown park in Montgomery, Alabama, is now officially called the Montgomery Zoo/Mann Wildlife Learning Museum and has become a leading American zoo. Montgomery Zoo, Alabama, was launched on a small scale – a children’s zoo, in fact, which was part of a local community park in the 1920s. At its Oak Park location, the zoo offered visitors a look into the lives of monkeys, bears, and alligators, among other animals. A small train and carousel dotted the landscape, too. Photo: jackienix/Fotolia

»The Mann Wildlife Learning Museum

The Mann Wildlife Learning Museum

Some 80 years later, in 2003, Montgomery Area Zoological Society purchased the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum and relocated it to the Montgomery Zoo. Its stunning collection of large animals was taken with bow and arrow by trophy hunter George Mann. Visitors at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum are keen to touch the furs and antlers of the wild animals.

Mann Wildlife Learning Museum is huge: it’s a 28,000 square foot facility with over 270 displays. Situated next to the zoo, it is ensconced in the zoo’s wildlife and flora, and is like no other museum in the world. Its collection boasts complete families of North American deer, skunk, bear and others. The museum shows various species and other elements, giving visitors a view of the species in its natural environment. An education/seminar room holds better than 200 people and features digital surround sound.

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The animals are displayed in a three-sided format so visitors can get us close to see the animals in their natural environs. All displays feature natural material and real plants, trees, rocks, critters, sand and dirt collected from the actual site where the animals lived their lives. There is a fish room, where visitors can marvel at the mounted fish on display, including sharks, stingrays, blue fin, marlin, and an orca, or what’s commonly known as a killer whale.

The Museum is intended to house a lifetime of the study of wildlife and a collection of one of the most complete compilations of Alabamian and North American wildlife: reptiles, birds, fish, and animals.

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From his first encounters with trapping, fishing and hunting, George Mann was committed to learning and valuing the singular living habits of the animals he came upon so that he could completely understand their behavior.

Mann still spends about half of each year in the Alaskan wilderness, where he is a certified professional hunting guide. At home in Opelika, Mann continues with his family’s research on turkey, deer, and other animals native to the state. Among his achievements and memberships, Mann has been nominated for induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and has been named as the Governor’s Wildlife Conservationist of the Year twice. Photo:

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»Animals and Their Realms

Animals and Their Realms

In the African realm at the Montgomery Zoo, visitors can see a Cheetah, chimpanzee, elephant, giraffes, a pygmy hippopotamus, and vultures among other creatures. Of special note is the baby giraffe calf, now on view at Giraffe Encounters. The zoo and museum are now the proud parents of Connye, which was born on March 23, and first shown to the public on April 22 during a weekly media briefing by Mayor Todd Strange. After this even, she and her mother, Ashley, can be seen at the Giraffe exhibit daily, pending unexpected circumstances.

This is the mother’s first calf and the father’s third calf. Willie, the father, is just about 12 years old, while Mom is eight years old.

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The Red Kangaroo, the Wallaby, and the Warthog can be seen in the Australian Realm.

The Red Kangaroo is the biggest type of kangaroo. It is the largest mammal native to Australia, and the largest surviving marsupial. It can be sighted across mainland Australia, avoiding only the more fertile areas in the south, the east coast, and the northern rainforests. Males are larger than females. The marsupial has a markedly strong tail, which is used often to help it stand upright. Male red kangaroos can leap more than 30 feet.

In the South American Realm, adults and children alike can marvel at alligators, the Andean Condor, the Chilean Flamingo, an Emerald Tree Boa, a Python, assorted frogs, a Giant Anteater, a Jaguar, Spider Monkeys, Toucans and turtles, among other native animals.

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The alligator is a big draw. The name alligator has its origins in the words, el lagarto, Spanish for "lizard." This is the name given to it by early Spanish settlers and explorers in Florida.

Believe it or not, alligators have had such luck adapting over 200 million years, that the species has remained virtually unchanged. Everyone knows that the alligator is synonymous for its bone crushing bites and has been dubbed a "living fossil."

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»The Asian Realm

The Asian Realm

In the Asian Realm, fee free to wander and behold an Axis deer, Sumatran tiger, an Indian rhinoceros, black swan and others.

Seeing a Sumatran tiger is a thrill. Such a tiger is actually a subspecies of a tiger found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Between 400 and 500 wild Sumatran tigers were said to be alive in 1998, but that number dwindles.

Sumatran Tigers tend to prey on wild boar, deer, and Malayan Tapir. Sometimes, they will turn to smaller prey – monkeys, fowl and fish, for example. Sumatran Tigers are known to go for mice and similar prey when larger animals are limited. Orangutans are also potential targets, but since they only spend comparatively little time on the ground, they are not easy prey.

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In the North American Realm, visitors may find some familiar faces. While some guests at the zoo may have had a chance to see one of these beautiful creatures – perhaps on a recent visit to one of our national parks – visitors can definitely find them at this exhibit. Find a bald eagle, bison, black bear, cougar, elk, river otter, white-tailed deer, and wild turkey.

The Bald Eagle is a bird of prey found in North America. Bald eagles are not actually bald; its name derives from the older meaning of "white headed." Most visitors know it is our national bird and symbol of the United States. It has a presence in most of Canada and Alaska, the lower 48, and in northern Mexico. Bald Eagles are generally seen by large bodies of water. These birds require an adequate food supply and they nest in old-growth trees.

It’s story of survival is a remarkable tale. In the late 1900’s, the Bald Eagle was nearly extinct in the continental United States, while it flourished throughout much of Canada and Alaska. In the continental United States, some populations returned, so it was eliminated from the U.S. government's list of endangered species. In 1995, it was then added to the list of threatened species. In 2007, the Bald Eagle has its name taken off the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the Lower 48 States.

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»Noteworthy Upcoming Events

Noteworthy Upcoming Events

Zoo aficionados can give their children the gift of a lifetime – a summer at the Montgomery Zoo with one of the most unique wildlife adventures in the River Region. Enrollment is open to girls and boys, ages 5-12 years old for half and full-day sessions. Campers will experience scavenger hunts, live animal presentations, games, various educational exercises, water games and animal themed games, plus arts and craft projects. This year's theme is ANIMAL OLYMPICS so there will be competitions to win the GOLD, SILVER and BRONZE medals.

On September 5, Behind-the-Scenes Experiences begin.

These exclusive experiences are available with elephants, tigers, giraffes and alligators, and are intended to give you a singular glimpse into their lives. Affectionately called, Game Day at Montgomery Zoo, visitors can commence their weekend adventures at the Montgomery Zoo with a special and unique behind-the-scenes tour and animal experience. Visitors will get a kick from learning about their favorite team’s mascot, whether it be Florida Gators, the University of Alabama Pachyderms, or the Auburn Tigers. Take in a one of a kind animal experience before the big game day kickoff. Registration is required.

Dining at the Zoo

At the new Overlook Café, visitors will find a wide assortment of treats – from hamburgers and hot dogs, to sandwiches, salads, wraps and frozen desserts. The Overlook Cafe is open daily. A complete Overlook Cafe menu is available on the website

In addition, kiosks are located throughout the zoo, where visitors can buy drinks and snacks. Photo: adogslifephoto/Fotolia

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Montgomery Zoo in Montgomery, Alabama