What You Never Knew About the Houston Zoo

Julie Pippert - Houston
February 21, 2012

Did you know that this year the Houston Zoo observes its 90th year of operation in Hermann Park? You probably know about their incredible animal exhibits, the spots to cool off in the heat, the special events such as Dora and Diego's 4-D Adventure, or the intriguing events for adults such as cocktails on the Sea Lion Deck. However, as popular and well-known as our wonderful zoo is, there is a lot you might not know about the zoo!

Did you know that you can…

Get up close—face-to-face—with a giraffe? The zoo offers a Giraffe Feeding Platform where guests may purchase romaine lettuce leaves and feed the giraffes. It opened in December 2010 as part of The African Forest exhibit. The feedings are twice a day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can contact the zoo for more information and to schedule.

Do an art walk through the zoo? Take a sketchpad and pencil and do some fun drawings of your own. The zoo is graced throughout with ten special sculptures, each with a story. Here are a few:

  • Brownie. Children in Houston pooled their pennies to collect the money needed for this adorable, figurative, cast-bronze sculpture of an elf or gnome wearing a soft pointed cap and pointed shoes with buckles. Sculpted by Italian sculptor Louis Amateis, he was unveiled on July 4, 1907. The Houston children who donated pennies were likely thrilled – knowing they accomplished this! Such a neat story to share with children to empower them. Children might also enjoy learning that Brownie moved around quite a bit and had an adventurous time: he was originally a water fountain for kids in City Park (now Sam Houston Park downtown) until he was stolen in 1935! Fortunately, he recovered two years later and returned to the park. In 1968 Brownie was relocated to the then-new Children’s Zoo (CZ) at the Houston Zoo, and then on to the Houston Zoo reflection pool in 2001. Houston and the Zoo never forget that Brownie is meant to be for the children, by the children.
  • "The Great Adventure/Dolly’s Ride."  It was done by sculptor Ann Armstrong, commissioned by the First Houston Doll Club and donated to the Houston Zoo in 1994.  It depicts a life-sized tortoise with a little girl riding it holding a rag doll. It’s a very sweet piece.
  • New sculptures. These include: a bronze orangutan at the entrance to Wortham World of Primates; a sculpture of a rhino that looks like it’s crashing through the wall and into the plaza next to the entrance to the Kipp Aquarium (this is becoming one of the most popular photo sites in the zoo); and a life sized ‘sitting’ giraffe near the giraffe exhibit at The African Forest.

Talk with a zookeeper? For several years now, zookeepers have been doing more than twenty Meet the Keeper Talks and presentations every day. You can see the daily schedule on the Web site. The schedule is posted on the zoo website every morning and is also posted on three Plan Your Day kiosks around the zoo.

Compare old zoo and new zoo? The zoo has historic photographs of how the Zoo and its exhibits looked in the 1920s and 1930s. Look at how the grotto for the bird exhibit appeared in the 1930s: 

bird house, Houston zoo 1930 


Look for differences from then to now (such as fake plants and real plants). What’s different? Why does your child think it is different? Is newer better? Have we learned more about animals and habitats that are good for them? If you can, connect with a zookeeper and see if your guesses are correct.

Another difference is that in the late 1920s and early 1930s the first head zookeeper, Hans Nagel, was a showman. Several times a week, Hans would "train" large carnivores in The Arena. Often, as legend has it, the trainings would result in Hans wrestling a tiger or lion. It was a different age. Why might we not do that now? See what your child thinks.

Enjoy your special, out of the ordinary, visit to the zoo! 

Photos courtesy of the Houston Zoo 

From the Parents

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