National Bison Day [Instagram]

Happy National Bison Day!  In 1905, leaders of WCS helped to form the American Bison Society.  Their work prevented the extinction of this iconic species by establishing several small herds — sometimes with animals from the Bronx Zoo — in widely separated preserves across the country.  Shown here are bison sent from the Bronx Zoo to Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in 1907.  National Bison Day, which is celebrated on the first Saturday in November, commemorates the ecological, cultural, historical, and economic contribution of the American bison to the US.

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Happy Halloween! [Instagram]

Happy Halloween! Here are some spooky creatures of the deep illustrated by Else Bostelmann from the Department of Tropical Research in 1934. She appropriately titled this “Big Bad Wolves of an Abyssal Chamber of Horrors.”

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[Instagram] Elephant Keys

Wildlife Conservation Society Archives. Collection 2016.

The elephant keys unlocked “Talking Storybooks,” which were installed in zoos, including the Bronx Zoo, in the 1950s and 1960s. Once unlocked with elephant keys, the Talking Storybooks played recorded stories about animals found around the zoo. Does anyone still have theirs?

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Happy 25th Re(Birthday) Prospect Park Zoo!

Opening Day Ceremony program. WCS Archives Collection 2016

On October 5, 1993, Prospect Park Zoo reopened under the management of WCS. The renovation of the Prospect Park Zoo was the final component in WCS’s City Zoos Project, following the revitalization and reopening of the Central Park and Queens Zoos in 1988 and 1992.

Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden and Howard Phipps Jr reopening the Prospect Park Zoo, October 5, 1993. WCS Photo Collection

The Prospect Park Zoo was officially opened by then Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden throwing the inaugural fish to the sea lions while Society Chairman Howard Phipps Jr., Parks Commissioner Betsy Gotbaum, and the crowd looked on.

The original Prospect Park Zoo started in the late 1800s as a menagerie and formally opened as Prospect Park Zoo, under New York City management, in 1935. After management transferred to WCS in the 1980s, renovation of the park began in August 1989. Architectural elements and the original layout were preserved while the exhibits were replaced with natural habitats for the animals. Larger animals were moved to the bigger zoos while small animals remained.

Howard Phipps Jr., Howard Golden, and children at Prospect Park reopening, October 5, 1993. WCS Photo Collection

The new zoo’s design placed an emphasis on educating children about wildlife conservation, with the WCS 1994 annual report referring to it as a “conservation-oriented children’s wildlife center in Brooklyn.”

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Charles Haskins Townsend’s 159th Birthday!

Front cover of album

“N. end sea elephant rookery”

“Old male. Proboscis drawn up. Neck sore from fighting.”

Townsend’s writing on inside front cover

Charles Haskins Townsend was born on this date in 1859. Townsend served as the Director of the New York Aquarium at Battery Park from 1902 to 1937, and he was a leading voice for the protection of fur seals. This album features photos Townsend took of elephant seals on Guadalupe Island in March 1911 during an expedition on the U.S.S. Albatross. Fur seals later found by researchers on Guadalupe Island in the 1920s were aptly named Guadalupe Fur Seals, but their scientific name was made in honor of Townsend, Arctocephalus townsendi.

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World Gorilla Day [Instagram]

On #WorldGorillaDay, we’re remembering the pioneering mountain gorilla studies conducted by George Schaller in 1959 and 1960.  Sponsored by WCS, Schaller and John Emlen surveyed gorilla populations in Uganda and what was then the Belgian Congo. Their studies helped to establish population data that continues to guide conservationists today. Schaller also conducted further field research into the behavior and ecology of mountain gorillas. Approaching them with “empathy and respect,” as he has written, he spent several months making unprecedented observations of gorillas.  His groundbreaking work dispelled then-popular notions of gorillas as ferocious beasts, and helped to promote an understanding of the gorilla as shy, gentle, and vulnerable.

Image: Gorilla distribution map from Emlen, J. T. and G. B. Schaller. Distribution and status of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei)—1959. Zoologica 45.5 (1960).

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Happy International Vulture Awareness Day! [Instagram]


Happy International Vulture Awareness Day! This beauty was illustrated by an unidentified artist working for the Department of Tropical Research during their ecological expeditions in British Guiana in 1916. Anyone recognize the species? We’re thinking yellow-headed vulture, which William Beebe described in some of his early writing.

Image from WCS Archives Collection 1039

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8/8/88: Happy 30th (Re)Birthday, Central Park Zoo

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Central Park Zoo’s reopening under WCS management.

Invitation to the reopening of the Central Park Zoo, 1988. WCS Archives Collection 2016

Until 1980, the City Zoos were administered by New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation. New York City officially chartered the already existing Central Park Menagerie in 1864; in 1934 Robert Moses had it rebuilt as part of his plan to update parks and recreation areas in the city.

Invitation to Central Park Zoo’s reopening, 1934. WCS Archives Collection 2016

By the mid-1970s, all three City Zoos were in decline; troubles were exacerbated by the New York City budget crisis of the era. In an environment of bad press and lawsuits against the city on the zoos’ behalf, city government and WCS (then known as the New York Zoological Society) engaged in negotiations for the handover of the zoos to the Society. After over a decade of talks, the parties finally reached agreement in 1980, at which point the Society’s City Zoos Project began. Education Curator Richard L. Lattis was named the project’s director and oversaw the staged shutdown of the three zoos, their redesign, construction, and reopening.

Mayor Ed Koch and crowds at the reopening of the Central Park Zoo, August 8, 1988. WCS Photo Collection

Central Park Zoo closed in 1983 and reopened August 8, 1988 to great fanfare and extensive press coverage. New York Magazine–which, in 1977, had noted the widespread opinion that Central Park Zoo was “not fit for animals” at that time–ran a July 18, 1988 cover story on the new “state-of-the art” zoo.  The New York Times ran a front-page photo, announcing, “At Last, a Joy for All Ages: Central Park Zoo is Back.” Mayor Ed Koch led the reopening event and tossed out the inaugural fish in the Sea Lion Pool. Even Jim Henson excitedly recorded the event in his diary: “8/8/1988: New Central Park Zoo opens!”

Model for new Central Park Zoo, 1983. WCS Archives Collection 3003

The redesign of the Central Park Zoo was led by renowned architect Kevin Roche. Models such as the one shown here were created as part of the process. Upon the reopening of the Zoo in 1988 under WCS management, The New York Times declared that Roche had “wrought a piece of architecture at once spectacular and exquisite. The new Central Park Zoo … is one of the few pieces of civic architecture built in New York in the last generation about which it is possible to be almost completely enthusiastic. It is beautiful, it is fun to be in, it respects the park and it respects the animals. What more could we want?”