Located inside Hattiesburg, Mississippi’s Kamper Park, the Hattiesburg Zoo is a 12-acre wildlife refuge owned by the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, featuring educational facilities and habitats for animals native to Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Kamper Park is named for local Mississippi businessman John Frederick Kamper, a German immigrant who served as vice president of First National Bank in Meridian.
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A prominent area Freemason, Kamper established much of the area now known as Hattiesburg, named in honor of his late wife, and donated 40 acres of wooded area to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who in turn donated the land to the city for the creation of a public park. The idea for constructing a zoo in Kamper Park was inspired by the tradition of local Hattiesburg residents bringing domesticated animals to the park in the early 1900s. Funds for the zoo project were raised throughout the 1940s by the Hattiesburg Optimist Club, and on Easter Sunday in 1950, the zoo facility was formally opened to the public. The park’s first elephant was named “Mrs. Hattie,” in honor of Kamper’s late wife.
Permanent Exhibits and Animals
Today, the Hattiesburg Zoo showcases more than 100 animal species, primarily holding concentrations of species from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The zoo is operated by the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, overseen by an executive director. It is operated on a 12-acre plot inside Kemper Park’s 40-acre space, located within a pine and oak tree grove area.
The zoo’s exhibits are divided into areas for separate geographical regions, beginning with an African Exhibit near its entrance that showcases monkey, ostrich, antelope, and zebra species. A Touch Africa petting zoo within the exhibit offer up-close experiences with animals for young visitors. Nearby, the Veldt Overlook offers safe animal observation opportunities. An African Drum Station showcases native drumming demonstrations, and Poacher’s Camp and Gamekeeper’s Cottage areas also provide perspective on cultural conditions on the continent related to animal activities.
Within the South American Exhibit, visitors can observe jaguars, tigers, llamas, howler monkeys, and tapirs, as well as macaws and other winged species native to the continent. A Tiger Boardwalk area allows visitors to safely experience American alligator species up close, and a Prairie Dog Promenade showcases the species native to the Great Plains. Animals in the Asian Exhibit area also include the continent’s native tiger and monkey species.
The zoo’s High Ropes Adventure Course is a four-story rope climbing race and play area, the only course of its kind in the region. Children and adults may use the course during zoo hours for an additional fee, with each ticket purchase allowing 30 minutes of use. Children must be at least four feet tall to use the course’s Sky Trail without a chaperone. Open-toed sandals are not permitted within the course, and athletic footwear and comfortable clothing are recommended for safety.
At the Asbury Discovery Center, visitors can learn about the history of wildlife exploration and zookeeping in a unique “exploratorium” classroom setting. Zoo animals and artifacts are on display within Professor Elemental’s Room of Wonders and Oddities, which may be rented for educational groups and private special events. The Parris Jewelers Mining Sluice also offers gem mining activities for young visitors at an interactive mining station exhibit.
All exhibit areas contain landscaped walking trails with barriers and fences. The Havard Pest Control Bug Hub Playground offers a themed playground experience for young visitors, and a 2,400-square-foot Splash Pad area provides cooling and play opportunities with 30 interactive water jets. A Carousel is located near the zoo’s main entrance, and a Train Depot offers miniature train rides around the park’s grounds. Light American fare options are offered at the Safari Grill concession stand, and the nearby Shade Pavilion provides picnic table seating. Picnic areas, playgrounds, and other amenities are also located throughout Kemper Park and may be used by zoo visitors.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The zoo’s edZOOcation Center offers year-round programming for children and teens, including zoological education summer camps and overnight experiences for scouting groups and organizations. A free educational outreach program, The Tortoise and the Hair, offers 30-minute in-classroom educational sessions with zookeepers and staff for area elementary and secondary schools. Annual public special events include a ZooBoo Halloween event, which offers family-friendly games, animal shows, a dance party, and special Halloween-themed rides on the zoo’s carousel and train. As part of the zoo’s conservation efforts, an Adopt An Animal program allows donors to sponsor a zoo animal for a year, with donations going directly toward food, toys, and social enrichment activities for animals.
107 S 17th Ave, Hattiesburg, MS 39401, Phone: 601-545-4576