Located in Manhattan, New York City, inside Central Park, the Central Park Zoo is a 6.5-acre zoo featuring a variety of animal habitats, a cafe, and a 4D theater. The zoo’s origins can be traced back to the early days of Central Park, although it was not planned as an integrated part of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux’s park design.
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Early gifts of animals to the park by philanthropists and citizens prompted the creation of a menagerie in 1859, located at the park’s edge near Fifth Avenue and East 64th Street. The original menagerie display included a bear, several swans, and a collection of exotic pets. The facility was given a formal zoo charter in 1864, making it the second publicly owned zoo in the country, after the 1859 establishment of the Philadelphia Zoo.
In 1934, several permanent additions were created by architect Aymar Embury II as a series of neo-Georgian-style limestone and brick structures arranged in a quadrangle around a central sea lion pool designed by Charles Schmieder. This era of the zoo’s history is now commonly referred to as the “1934 Zoo,” as the zoo underwent major renovations in 1988, replacing many of the original cages and structures with natural habitat spaces.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the zoo is part of the city’s Wildlife Conservation Society network, which also manages the Bronx Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium. Seven major exhibit areas house animals from temperate, tropic, and polar climates.
The Central Garden & Sea Lion Pool remains the centerpiece of the zoo, featuring a new pool redesign from the 1988 renovations. The glass-encased pool allows visitors to view the sea lions from both above and below the water level. In the indoor Tropic Zone exhibit, rainforest animals such as black-and-white ruffed lemurs, emerald tree boas, and poison dart frogs are on display. The Temperate Territory is home to a variety of Asian species, including cranes, snow monkeys, and red pandas. A chilled penguin house featuring gentoo, chinstrap, king, and macaroni penguins anchors the Polar Circle, which also contains harbor seals and puffins.
The park’s children’s zoo originally opened in 1961 and was renamed the Tisch Children’s Zoo in 1997 after a $4.5 million grant and renovation. The new children’s zoo retains its original gates, designed by Paul Manship. Young visitors can interact with potbelly pigs, goats, sheep, and Manhattan’s only cow. Interactive playspaces, such as a spiderweb-themed trampoline area, allow children to climb and explore.
Recent additions to the zoo include the Allison Maher Stern Snow Leopard exhibit, opened in 2009, and the Grizzly Bear and Treena’s Overlook, featuring animals transplanted from the Bronx Zoo. In addition to the exhibits, a 4D theater shows family-friendly films with built-in sensory effects. The Dancing Crane Cafe, accessible from inside Central Park without zoo admission, offers light American fare, and the Zootique gift shop sells plush animals, children’s books, and animal-themed toys.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Daily programming at the Central Park Zoo includes penguin and sea otter feedings, with times varying depending on animal conditions. Central Park Zoo Quests are led periodically by park employees throughout the facility, featuring family-friendly activities and educating visitors about the zoo’s animals. Draw Like a Scientist sessions recall techniques used in the early days of the New York Zoological Society to guide visitors through sketch and study activities.
The zoo offers a wide variety of educational programming for all ages. Guided and self-guided tours are available for grades K-12. The Wildlife Theater outreach program also brings animal education directly to the classroom with a variety of themed performance programming, using costumes and puppetry to educate students about natural habitats and species.
Themed toddler playtime groups are held for the zoo’s youngest visitors, including an Exploring the Wild program, which offers live animal encounters. The Little Zoo Vets program is an after-school class that gives children ages 8-12 the opportunity to work with zoo veterinarians to learn about animal health care in a hands-on environment. A Junior Keepers program allows children to take a look behind the scenes at the daily tasks of animal caregivers. Summer camps and school break day camps are offered on a variety of topics, featuring animal investigations and encounters. Adult programming includes a breakfast with the zookeepers series themed around the zoo’s grizzly bear, primate, and penguin habitats, and a seasonal morning photography program, which gives wildlife photography buffs an opportunity to enter the zoo before it opens and take exclusive photos of the park’s animals.
Conservation efforts by zoo staff include breeding programs for endangered species, such as Wyoming toads, tamarin monkeys, and thick-billed parrots.
E 64th St & 5th Ave, New York, NY 10021, Phone: 212-439-6500