"New York City Zoos" by Joan Scheier
Staten Island Zoo
"The Staten Island Zoo is the only New York City zoo that is not part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. However, "New York's Biggest Little Zoo" has much in common with the Central Park and Prospect Park Zoos. The WPA used solid brick architecture, winding paths, and a park-like setting. The Staten Island Zoo has always been known for its reptile collection (especially for its collection of venomous snakes) and its educational programs. In fact, the zoo is host to over 20,000 children a year through their extensive agenda of educational programs. The Staten Island Zoo, like all zoos, has changed since the 1930's. The animals were in cages and exhibits that were sterile with little to engage the resident. Now they can be seen in a a natural setting with keepers providing enrichment specific to each exhibit. Clearly, the Staten Island Zoo is an oasis in a city craving for an experience that is fun, educational, and affordable."
John Caltiabano, director, Staten Island Zoo
Plan For The Staten Island Zoo
The plan for the Staten Island Zoo that opened in 1936 was for one red brick building in the shape of a T. The center of the T would be a rotunda that would house the aqaurium. Mammals and birds would be on either side. The straight let of the T would house the reptile collections.
Barrett Park was the location of the zoo and also the name of the zoo. As time went on it became known as the Staten Island Zoo. All the New York City zoos of that era used red brick with white trim and included ornate chimneys atop the buildings.
Staten Island 1936
The zoo opened in June 1936. The school groups led by teachers were always charmed by the lions. Educational programs included demonstrations for biology students, meetings of natural history groups, and, lectures for the public.
Dr. Parick O'Connor
Dr. Parick O'Connor, staff veterinarian 1945-1970, considered education of the public and especially of children very important. She gave them an opportunities to touch and learn about the snakes at the zoo. She visited hospitals and the children visited the zoo as well.
The Indian cobra is an example of a snake that was the cornerstone of the reptile collection. This is a highly venomous snake that feeds on rodents. When threatened it will raise the front one third of its body and elongate its long flexible neck.
"First Education Zoo In America"
When the zoo opened in 1936 it claimed to be the first education zoo in America. From the opening day through today, the reptile exhibits have aimed for naturalistic habitats. This postcard shows the rocky bottom that would have been natural to this species.
Sultana, one of the African lionesses, was shown in a typical enclosure of the time. The breeding of the big cats was successful and cubs were sent to other zoos. In 1967, renovations to the zoo make it necessary to remove the larger animals to other zoos, including Guadalajara, Mexico, where a new zoo was being built.
Lion In Outdoor Enclosure
This is an outdoor enclosure showing a lion lounging on a raised shelf. All the zoos in New York City have one thing in common when to comes to saving the best of the architecture. Whether the buildings were demolished or renovated, paving stones, chimneys, weathervanes, brick trim, friezes, and statues were kept in their original locations.
Peacocks and Prairie Dogs
In keeping with open enclosures and no bars it was decided to have more outdoor exhibits that did not need to be roofed in. This exhibit includes flightless birds, such as peacocks and an exhibit of praire dogs with burrows for digging.
This is one of the newest residents at the Staten Island Zoo. Smaller animals replaced the large lions and tigers. An example of a smaller cat is the seval shown above, which was added to the collection in 2005. A seval is a wild cat that is a threatened species due to loss of habitat and over hunting.
This is Vixen, a Red fox from the Staten Island Zoo. She is a year old.