Located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Baton Rouge Zoo is the city’s most-visited year-round family attraction, home to more than 1,800 animal species.
Initial talk of developing a zoo in Baton Rouge dates back to the 1950s, when local television personality Buckskin Bill began a public campaign urging the city to look into the idea of funding a zoo, adding the tagline “Baton Rouge needs a zoo” to the end of his weekly program.
Conversations about the project by the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission began in 1960, although funding for the facility was not allocated until 1965, achieved in part due to a millage election spearheaded by Buckskin Bill. Construction on the zoo began in 1966, and the zoo facility was opened to the public four years later, on Easter Sunday of 1970.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the Baton Rouge Zoo is an accredited Association of Zoos and Aquariums zoo, the first in the state to receive the distinction. As the top family attraction in the city, the zoo is host to over 250,000 annual visitors. It is managed by East Baton Rouge Parish’s Recreation and Park Commission and houses more than 1,800 animal species from across the world.
A Safari Post Gift Shop is located at the entrance to the zoo facility, along with the Cypress Bayou Railroad Station, which departs trains every half hour that travel around the zoo’s perimeter wetlands. Tram rides are also offered with advance reservations on the Baton Rouge Zoo Tram, providing 25-minute narrated tours throughout the park’s grounds.
The park’s animal habitats are divided by continent, featuring wildlife native to Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia. In the Asian section, a Realm of the Tiger exhibit showcases Malayan and Sumatran tigers, the latter of which being the rarest subspecies of tiger in the world, with only 500 left in the wild today. Other Asian species on display include the Indian rhinoceros, the lion-tailed macaque, and the Vietnamese potbellied pig, a domesticated breed brought to the United States in the 1980s. A Water Treatment Marsh area separates the Asian and South American sections of the zoo, featuring black-necked swans, native to Brazil, Bolivia, Patagonia and the Falkland Islands, while capybaras, maned wolves, jaguars, and spectacled bears roam nearby.
Bearded dragons, blue-tongued skinks, and red kangaroo are on display in the Australian section, which is located next to the zoo’s educational department facilities. The African section of the zoo contains roaming areas for Plains zebras, cheetahs, bongos, and Nubian ibexes. Two nearby bird exhibits, a Parrot Paradise and a Birds of Prey area, serve as walkthrough aviaries allowing free flight for a variety of winged species, and the Birds of the World exhibit showcases diverse species such as the East African crowned crane, the sacred ibis, and the kookaburra. An Otter Pond features a replicated fishing cabin that serves as a platform for visitors to view otters in their natural underwater habitat, and the L’aquarium de Louisiana exhibit features reptile, fish, and amphibian species native to the Louisiana area.
A KidsZoo area features a Safari Playground and a seasonal concession stand, the Cool Critters Cafe. The zoo’s main dining facility, the Flamingo Cafe, is open every day, serving a variety of American fare, and other vending machines and food stands are provided throughout the park for quick snacks. While the zoo does not provide public picnic areas, visitors may use picnic facilities at the nearby Greenwood Park, located along the zoo’s northern border.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Several daily wildlife shows are presented at the zoo, including a twice-daily Otter Chat at the Otter Pond, a Wildlife Safari Show presented at the zoo’s amphitheater on weekends, and a nightly Running of the Ducks at the KidsZoo area, held one hour before the zoo’s daily closing. Field trips for K-12 students are offered, incorporating Louisiana curriculum standards, and family-friendly Twilight Tours by tram are hosted weekly throughout the summer. Safari Night programs offer visitors ages five and up the chance to spend the night at the zoo and include live animal encounters and a ride on the Cypress Bayou Railroad. A Zoo-and-Me Morning program allows preschoolers to explore the zoo with their families, featuring hands-on animal-themed projects and activities, and a Zoo Krewe program gives teens the chance to volunteer at the zoo, working directly with animal care.
As an accredited zoo, the Baton Rouge Zoo is committed to species conservation efforts and has dedicated resources to more than 30 survival plans for threatened and endangered species. Its programs working with the Arabian oryx, Guam rail, and golden lion tamarin have successfully reintroduced animals into their natural habitats in the wild. Other species conservation efforts include work with cheetahs, tigers, Baird’s tapirs, and Asian and African elephants.