Since it first opened its gates in 1899 the Bronx Zoo has been the world’s premier destination for viewing animals from the world over.
At that time, the zoo exhibited 843 animals – the Wildlife Conservation Society organization now houses over 4,500 on 265 acres. Those thousands, mostly in outdoor settings in re-created habitats, comprise more than 600 unique species.
And unique they are. Everything from the False Gharial (a kind of crocodile) to African wild dogs and Asian Small-Clawed Otters and Herbie the harbor seal is here.
The Congo Gorilla Forest habitat is one of the more recent, but also one of the best, displays. Similar to the efforts of the justly world-famous San Diego Zoo, the caretakers have provided the primates with a setting almost indistinguishable from their native area.
Though there’s a small additional charge (currently $3), this 6.5-acre re-creation of an African mountain rain forest has treetop lookouts, lush greenery, and hundreds of animals. There are black and white Colobus monkeys, red-river hogs, and two troops of lowland gorillas.
The shady forest dotted with bamboo thickets and sunny meadows houses 400 species of plant in addition to the many animals. The exhibit trail is nearly 1/3 mile long and home to the first gorilla born in New York City.
The Jungle World forms an excellent adjunct, where an indoor rain forest has been exquisitely re-created with rare botanical species. The display offers Asian gibbons (similar to monkeys), hornbills, tapirs (a small pig-like species dating back millions of years) among unique trees and plants.
One section of the zoo contains dry riverbeds, the Baboon Reserve, featuring a simulated archaeological dig. Visitors can learn about how scientists investigate the history of mammals and find out about the evolution of Gelada baboons.
A realistic-looking field station provides a view of the baboons as well as Nubian ibex (a kind of wild mountain goat) on an African-style ‘mountain range’.
Nearby is the Journey to the Himalayas exhibit where the unusual red panda, the reclusive snow leopard, and other rare species of the area can be seen.
One of the newest sections is Tiger Mountain. The exhibit houses several tigers who can be found playing in the cooler weather or sleeping when it’s hot.
Many of the classic buildings are extant, though, near the Astor Court section of the zoo. Astor, one of the richest families in New York in the 19th century – almost unknown today – was a large contributor to the zoo.
Here is the old cat house, the monkey house, and the elephants on display. The World of Birds is nearby with a catwalk which the birds are hoping to rename.
Open year-round, the zoo contains many of the world’s endangered species in the parklands. In addition to the animal displays, there are many video displays, plaques, and – of course – a store where educational information is available.
Access is easy via an express bus from Manhattan, or via the subway. For details see their website at www.bronxzoo.com.