Celebrating Over a Century of Zoological Health

In fall of 1916, the Bronx Zoo opened its Animal Hospital—the first such facility to open at a US zoo.  To celebrate this centennial, we’re looking back on some WCS Zoological Health Program images and materials from the WCS Archives.

 1002-001-miller-osborn-1901Miller, Frank H. to H. F. Osborn, 1901 April 6. WCS Archives Collection 1002.

Frank H. Miller was the New York Zoological Park’s second Veterinarian (1901-1903, part-time). (According to William Bridges’ NYZS history Gathering of Animals, H. Amling Jr. was employed as a part-time vet in December 1900.) This letter includes Miller’s suggestions to NYZS Vice President Henry Fairfield Osborn (Sr.) regarding the time he would devote to the Zoo and how much he would be like to be paid for that time.



Performing surgery on bison at the Bronx Zoo, September 1906. WCS Photo Collection

Before the opening of the Animal Hospital in 1916, surgeries were sometimes performed outside and at times even while the animals were on exhibit.  This surgery would have been overseen by the Bronx Zoo’s first full-time Veterinarian, W. Reid Blair.



“Work of Hospital and Laboratory,” 1938 July 30 Press Release. WCS Archives Collection 2018.

While labeled—and archived as—a press release, this showcase of the Bronx Zoo’s hospital and laboratory work was published in the Lederle Bulletin, a journal produced by pharmaceutical company Lederle Labs, which eventually became part of chemical conglomerate American Cyanamid (now largely part of Pfizer).  The brief article highlights a few cases of the hospital’s involvement with Bronx Zoo animals, including parasite monitoring for an okapi fresh out of quarantine, diet formulation for a baby panda, and treatments for various birds and primates.



Leonard Goss treating lion cub during CBS Radio broadcast, June 1941. WCS Photo Collection

WCS’s Health staff have long reported out about their work to scientific publications and occasionally to popular media outlets.  Leonard Goss was the Bronx Zoo’s fourth full-time Veterinarian, serving from 1939 to 1958.  He went on to become Director of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.



Stover, Janet. Giant panda field notes, 1981 September 14.  WCS Archives Collection 2025.

 In the early 1980s, Resident Janet Stover and Chief Veterinarian Emil Dolensek were asked by George Schaller, who at the time was Director of NYZS’s Animal Research and Conservation Center (a predecessor of today’s Global Conservation Program) to take part in the first modern giant panda field study.  Conducted in China’s Wolong Nature Reserve, the study was designed to understand the reclusive animal’s behavior and particularly its reproductive behavior.  Animal Health staff worked with Schaller and Chinese scientists on methods for breeding with artificial insemination and captive propagation techniques in an effort to aid the threatened pandas’ survival.

WCS Archives Awarded Grant from the Leon Levy Foundation

We’re very excited to start work on a one-year project funded by the Leon Levy Foundation [LLF] to ingest and process our legacy digital removable media!  This project builds directly on the success of last year’s National Digital Stewardship Residency [NDSR] Project.  However, while that work focused on electronic records that are just now being transferred to the Archives, the LLF project will allow us to work with digital materials that had been previously transferred to the Archives as part of predominantly paper-based collections.

A few of the legacy digital media items from the WCS Archives.

A few of the legacy digital media items from the WCS Archives.

These digital materials are contained on removable media that is in some cases already obsolete, such as 5.25 inch floppy disks and Zip disks; in other cases, such as CDs and DVDs, the unstable nature of the media threatens the accessibility of its contents.

From what we know of the content—based on labels and our ability to read some of the more common formats—it dates from the late 1980s to 2015.  As such, this content covers a long period of significant growth in the history of WCS.  During this period, WCS re-opened the three ‘City Zoos’ (the Queens, Prospect Park, and Central Park zoos), developed several major exhibits at the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium, and consolidated its conservation efforts into an institutional program, shifting from its past system of sponsoring individual researchers working on field projects to employing full-time staff engaged in developing permanent country-based programs.

We’ve hired Caroline Gil—a recent graduate of NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program—as the Digital Project Archivist on this grant.  Caroline’s now in her second week of work, and will be with us until September 2017.   Starting in November she’ll be posting here on Wild Things every other month to give updates on her progress.  We’ll be looking forward to her comments!

Nanuk: What’s in a Name?

 Archivists mine the collections and materials they process for key points of access, as gateways to gain attention and connect researchers to archival resources. Keeping in mind the needs of both the current and future generations of researchers, locations, names, dates, specific activities and events, along with other keywords get logged in the mind’s eye of processors whilst looking to make sense of the surviving records under their care. Terms like these provide valuable clues and points of entry into the materials to unearth important pathways for discovering existing relationships.  Continue reading

Early Photo Retouching and Other Reflections from the WCS Archives Photo Preservation Project

Wildlife Conservation Society_11357_Southern Bald Eagle_BZ_06 26 29In the first phase of a project whose eventual purpose is to conserve the WCS Archives’ collection of nearly 50,000 photographic negatives, the assessment of some 10,000-plus of these has been a mostly shared endeavor between myself and another intern. Dating from 1899 to 1946, this first batch of negatives is of interest from more than one perspective:  not only do the images constitute a visual timeline of WCS’s history and the histories of zoos, aquariums, and wildlife conservation, the negatives themselves can also be seen as artifacts that represent milestones from within the discipline of photography. Among other things in the collection, we see the transition from the use of glass to film negatives, as well as early attempts at photo manipulation.  Continue reading

“For it was never intended, from the beginning…” conservation action and advocacy at NYZS

2018_cif_brochure_back_circa1970sWCS Archives holds a number of collections that tell the story of the New York Zoological Society and its activities in the realm of public affairs. A portion of these materials relate to the former Department of Government Affairs which, from the period of the 1960s-1980s, produced records that serve to provide a snapshot into the Society’s contributions towards wildlife conservation legislation.  Continue reading

[If] Mars Attacks!

The Bronx Zoo, like many public facilities, has long had internal protocols for both standard operating procedures and emergency operating procedures [EOPs].  In the early 1970s, the Bronx Zoo’s newly-revitalized Safety Committee conducted a series of revisions of the Zoo’s Emergency Procedures Manual.  The revision process included gathering and codifying types of emergencies, ideal responses, and needed equipment from a wide variety of departments.  Continue reading

From “Andy’s Animal Alphabet” to “The White Whales of Bristol Bay”…Processing Records from the NYZS Department of Education



As we mentioned back in December, the WCS Archives was recently awarded a major grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to process several important collections.  We’ve now started in on processing the collections, which in addition to the collections from Fairfield Osborn, Lee S. Crandall, and others that we mentioned in our initial announcement, also include records from James A. Oliver, New York Zoological Society press releases spanning most of the 20th Century, and several  hundred illustrations from the Department of Tropical Research.  

In order to complete the work, the Archives has brought on a full-time project archivist, Emma Curtis, to do the bulk of the processing.  Each month Emma will be sharing her progress and latest discoveries in a post here on Wild Things.  We’re as thrilled to have her with us as we are to be working on the grant!

These first few weeks have brought a few notable insights of New York Zoological Society’s rich history as progress begins to ramp up on tackling the thirteen previously unprocessed and under-processed collections selected from WCS Archives holdings for this project.

Continue reading

First Phase of Our Photo Preservation Project is Complete

Picture1 As we’ve been reporting, the WCS Archives has spent the first half of the year working on a project to preserve our photographic negative collection.  Funded by the New York State Program for the Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials, the project serves as the first phase in what we intend to be a larger initiative to preserve the entire collection.  During this first phase, we identified and rehoused the collection’s first 10,267 photographic negatives.  This included 2,111 dry plate glass negatives and 8,156 acetate film negatives; of these, all of the glass negatives and 60% of the acetate negatives were 5×7”, and 40% of the acetate negatives were 4×5” or smaller.  Continue reading

Celebrating the NPS Centennial in the Jackson Hole Wildlife Park

Wildlife Conservation Society_24782_Jackson Hole Wildlife Park Drawing by Lloyd Sanford_01 02 53This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and to celebrate this major event, we’re remembering the creation of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Park.  In 1948, New York Zoological Society trustee and future NYZS president Laurance S. Rockefeller worked with NYZS and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to establish the park, and in 1962, the park was donated to the National Park Service for inclusion in Grand Teton National Park.

Continue reading

Preserving Herpetological History… and Beyond

Wildlife Conservation Society_009962_Ball Python Snake_BZ_09 09 25In January 2016, the WCS Archives began a project to preserve WCS’s historical photographic negatives. Since then, another intern and I have been going through these negatives one by one, inspecting them and creating an inventory, noting any information we can glean about their title, date, and physical condition. To ensure their long-term preservation, these negatives are being rehoused and placed into new acid-free envelopes and boxes. The approximately 50,000 negatives in this collection include both acetate film and glass plate negatives, and the oldest images date back to 1899. During this first phase of the project, I have been working with around the first 10,000 negatives in the collection, which represent the earliest of WCS’s photos, ranging from 1899 to the early 1940s.  This project was funded by the New York State Program for the Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials.

Continue reading