The public saw Hogle Zoo's Discoveryland for the first time only six weeks ago, but the new area is getting bigger and better. The just-opened second phase includes a newly planted forest, a woodland pond and a fort.
People can now appreciate Discoveryland as a place where children and their parents see animals in their natural habitats, not necessarily in cages. This shift to a more natural setting is a national trend in zoo exhibits. It has not always been so.The history of the Salt Lake zoo dates from 1912, when animals were donated to the city and placed in Liberty Park under the supervision of the city parks department.
In 1917, Princess Alice, an Asian elephant, was purchased from the Sells-Floto Circus. The following year, she gave birth to a male calf, known as Prince Utah. Prince Utah was the fourth elephant born in the United States, all to Princess Alice. Unfortunately, none of the four lived longer than one year.
As activities at the zoo grew and animals increased, it became obvious that better facilities were needed. Through the generosity of the Hogle family, a site was selected at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, and the new zoo officially opened to the public on Aug. 1, 1931.
One of the zoo's most famous animals was Shasta, a Liger (a cat with a tiger for a mother and a lion for a father), born in 1948. Shasta was a consistent favorite of the public until her death in 1972. All these animals were viewed under restricted conditions.
In 1952, the Utah Zoological Society was formed to operate the zoo for Salt Lake City. Since then, the Hogle Zoo has grown into an important recreational and educational facility for Utah and the Mountain West. It is considered a medium-size zoo, compared with some of the more famous larger zoos, such as those in San Diego and Indianapolis and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
The Hogle Zoo covers 52 acres, one-third of which remain undeveloped. The zoo is highly regarded in the community, as is evidenced by the 610,000 people who attended last year. Some 650,000 people are expected to visit the zoo this year.
The zoo ranks as the No. 1 public-supported attraction (with gate admission) along the Wasatch Front. Only Temple Square and the Great Salt Lake, both of which are free, attract more visitors. Interestingly enough, approximately 55 percent of the zoo's visitors come from outside Salt Lake County.
The zoo is home to 1,100 to 1,300 animals, more than 100 of them listed as endangered species. The protected animals include Asian elephants, Siberian and Bengal tigers, orangutans, chimpanzees, jaguars, a snow leopard, a white rhinoceros and four gorillas. (To illustrate the importance of the protected exhibits, it need only be known that there are more Rembrandt paintings in the world than snow leopards or Siberian tigers.)
Revenue has always been a problem in operating the zoo. In 1985, the Utah Legislature recognized the value of the zoo as a revenue-generating state attraction and provided $1.4 million toward its operational costs. The legislative allotment has decreased since then, dropping to $700,000 in 1988.
That is why it was especially welcome news when the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation granted $100,000 to the zoo, as a matching grant. This means that to be received, it must be matched dollar for dollar by other contributions.
The grant is designed to fund the development of Discoveryland, a five-phase project at the east end of the zoo. The first two phases are in place, and in the third, fourth and fifth phases, the zoo plans to create woodland, a marsh and desert areas, with the appropriate animals and foliage.
According to Lynn Davis, Hogle Zoo's marketing and development director, new exhibits are critical to the zoo's ongoing success. From a public standpoint, new exhibits are more noticeable than new animals.
Nevertheless, the baby polar bear, born in November, weighing in at 1 pound, is currently a major attraction. The bear grew quickly, to 60 pounds in April and currently weighs 120 pounds. (The father weighs about 800 pounds and the mother 700 pounds.) Mother and son have been happily rollicking in the water, to the great pleasure of summer visitors.
It will take approximately 18 months to complete the Discoveryland project, depending on the success of the fund-raising. This is part of a national push to create zoos where people do not have to look through bars to observe the animals. Davis says research has indicated that people are uncomfortable viewing animals in constricted circumstances.
The Central Park Zoo in New York City recently reopened after undergoing renovation. The cages were replaced with three climate zones, including a tropical rain forest. The new Indianapolis Zoo in White River State Park opened in June with 2,000 animals in simulated habitats of waters, deserts, plains and forests.
In St. Louis, the Living World is a $16 million educational center, slated to open next spring. It uses computers and video equipment with live animals to teach ecology, conservation and the theory of evolution. The Dallas Zoo is also replacing bars with moats and foliage-covered fences, hoping to create in the minds of the public a feeling of discovery.
At the renovated Phoenix Children's Zoo, children can climb a 15-foot-wide rope spider's web and burrow like prairie dogs in a tunnel. It is part of the goal to make the zoo experience active and educational and do away with the passive spectator role of the past.
Discoveryland is patterned after that concept. There will be, for instance, a hollow tree with a circular slide, allowing children to exit a different way. There will be a spider web children can climb into, and a frog jump, where they can compare their own jumping ability with that of the frogs. And there will be plexiglass tunnels children can climb into to get a better, closer view of animals without being in danger. It will be increasingly possible to view the animals from above or from underneath the exhibit.
Zoo Director LaMar Farnsworth is enthusiastic and thinks it will make attendance at the zoo more enriching.