News Column

EDITORIAL: OKC Zoo: Proof that good things can happen when a community bands together

August 21, 2014

The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

Aug. 21--WHEN a community bands together for a common good, greatness can happen.

Perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than with the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, a community project that sometimes flies under the radar but is really a remarkable story. This is highlighted with the August release of the book "Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013." The author is Amy Dee Stevens, who also wrote "Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902 to 1959." As Stevens points out, the zoo is an important part of the community's history.

"Nearly every school child in Oklahoma has memories of visiting the zoo on a field trip," she said, "and zoo photos can be found in thousands of family and corporate photo albums."

Just over 110 years ago the zoo began with a few animals and opened as a small menagerie at Wheeler Park. In 1924, it moved to its current location near the Interstates 35-44 interchange and was renamed Lincoln Park Zoo. That's the name thousands of baby boomers came to know the place in the 1960s.

Today the zoo (renamed again in the 1960s) is home, on its 119 acres, to more than 1,900 animals, including 54 endangered or threatened species. Its plant collection is impressive as well. Countless schoolchildren have toured both and many were awed by the beauty of nature. Success like this didn't just happen. It's been a team effort since the beginning.

Back in the 1930s, schoolchildren donated pennies to buy animals. That continued in the 1940s when perhaps the most famous zoo animal, Judy the elephant, was purchased in 1949. She would live at the zoo for nearly 50 years.

The 1960s ushered in the era when guests got away from what Stevens calls the "circus-like atmosphere" at the zoo and entered the conservation and research stage. Animal lovers would learn more about the species; zoos could step in and help endangered species.

Although animal rights activists might still decry zoos as exploitive toward animals, Stevens' book is filled with page after page of people who for decades showered abundant love and care on the inhabitants.

Without donations and volunteers, none of this would have been possible. In 2004, for instance, the Junior League of Oklahoma City celebrated its 75th year by building a 30,000-square-foot playground. It did so using thousands of volunteer hours.

There have been growing pains as well. The zoo amphitheater had 54,000 attend the first nine concerts in 1981. Neighbors complained of vandalism and blocked streets; stricter rules and fines gradually brought the concerts under control. Tensions have also arisen between the city trust that officially runs the zoo and a nonprofit organization that supports it with abundant time and money.

Most remember the painful decision the zoo made in 2001 to stop exhibiting dolphins after a trio of them (Harley, Turbo and Sally) died between 1998 and 2000 from an undetermined source of bacteria. A baby named Lily also died from natural causes. Yet the zoo continues to invest in the well-being of its animals, including a roomy $13 million elephant complex.

We're confident the next 50 years at the zoo will be just as memorable, meaningful and exciting as the past 110 years. As former zoo director Bert Castro said in 2005, "Zoo memories are part of growing up in Oklahoma City."

Our thanks to zoo employees and volunteers throughout the years for all those memories.


(c)2014 The Oklahoman

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Source: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City)

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