The Birmingham Zoo is a major zoological park founded in 1955. The 122-acre site is home to approximately 750 animals of 250 species including many endangered species from six continents. The facility, which is managed by a private non-profit corporation, participates heavily in Species Survival Programs. It is located, along with the Botanical Gardens, in Lane Park near the western terminus of Highway 280 at Highway 31 on the southern slope of Red Mountain.
 Early History
The first public zoo in Birmingham was a small menagerie of exotic animals kept at Birmingham Fire Station No. 3 when it was located at Magnolia Avenue and 22nd Street South. As the collection grew it was moved to Magnolia Park (now Brother Bryan Park). The collection included owls, raccoons, foxes, alligators, snakes, monkeys, skunks and groundhogs. Eventually the neighbors complained about the noise and smell, and the collection was abandoned.
A new zoological garden opened in the southeastern edge of Avondale Park around 1913, shortly after a former circus elephant, Miss Fancy, was bought with donations from area school children, the Birmingham Age-Herald, and the Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Company. The city budgeted $500 for an elephant house in the summer of 1914, and $1,872 for operational expenses for the year. The publicity surrounding the new attraction led members of 16th Street Baptist Church to petition the city to be allowed to picnic at the park one Sunday. The Birmingham City Commission accepted the petition, and decided to allow all Black residents to visit the park on July 9, 1914. The decision was harshly criticized by the Avondale Civic League, and the church withdrew its request.
With very little more capital investment, the zoo's collection grew slowly and mainly featured indigenous animals. By 1925, besides Miss Fancy, the collection boasted an 8' diamondback rattlesnake, five alligators, two black bears, a zebu (called a "Sacred Cow"), a buffalo, several peacocks, coyotes, hawks, owls, goats and monkeys. Not long afterward, city leaders contacted the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm, which had drawn up plans for a system of parks in Birmingham, for advice about housing a zoological collection. They were put in contact with the few municipal zoos existing in that period and plans began for providing a new permanent home for the growing attraction. A 1930 proposal to move the zoo to Green Springs Park met opposition from residents and failed to attract funding.
In 1934 the zoo, which had added a llama, lynx, wolf, raccoon, pheasant, three goats, five more alligators, an eagle, three rabbits, and a gopher, was putting a strain on city budgets. The Birmingham Parks & Recreation Board suggested that the zoo could be modernized with the proceeds of a 1-mill property tax, as had been done in Memphis, but the proposal was ignored. While contemporary accounts of the attraction were positive, later recollections of the conditions at the Avondale Zoo made reference to "the cages of unhappy mokeys, the moth-eaten bears, and the lonely, poorly housed elephant" in cautioning the city against recreating that "architectural and aesthetic horror".1.
The City Commission voted to close the zoo and sell off the collection. Many of the animals were bought by zoos in Augusta, Atlanta, Washington, and Attalla. The Cole Brothers - Clyde Beatty Circus purchased Miss Fancy, along with the zebu, llama, and nine monkeys for a total of $710. During the 1940s, the closest thing Birmingham residents had to a zoo was another small collection of native species exhibited by the Birmingham Chapter of the Izaac Walton League at Lane Park.
 Planning the zoo
Birmingham, under mayor A. O. Lane, had purchased land on the south of Red Mountain between 1889 and 1892. The former Red Mountain Cemetery, a pauper's cemetery was part of the parcel that was dedicated as a city park in 1934. The Works Progress Administration built a fish hatchery from the Hartselle sandstone quarried out of the mountain within the park's borders. The hatchery was fed by a natural spring and provided stock for recreational lakes in the region until the zoo took over the park.
The first source of post-war support for a new zoo came from the Birmingham Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). In 1946 Elton B. Stephens chaired a Jaycees committee to create a new zoo for the city of Birmingham. In 1949, then Birmingham mayor, James W. Morgan, a key supporter of the development, began an initiative to help in the planning and development of a city zoo. He met early resistance from the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Board and his fellow commissioners, but campaigned tirelessly and oversaw the creation of a committee to formally study the feasibility of a new zoo. That group, which included R. H. McIntosh, Vincent Townsend, H. S. Whisler, Ervin Jackson, and Charles McCauley visited the Jackson, Misssissippi zoo and others.
In 1954 a Birmingham Zoo Advisory Commission was appointed to choose sites, plan exhibits, and prepare budgets for construction. That group was made up of George Bellsnyder, James Downey, Max Scholder, and William Spoor. McCauley was originally a member, but resigned in 1955 to be able to accept the architectural commission for the new buildings.
Despite resistance from Mountain Brook residents, the commission decided that Lane Park was the best site for the new zoo, which would use about 50 acres surrounding the existing fish hatchery, accessed from Lane Park Road, and buffered by forest all around. They set a fund raising goal of $250,000, which they projected would allow for construction of the most desirable exhibits (a monkey island, an elephant house, a bear moat, a bird house, a snake pit, and a seal pool). Morgan answered the critics patiently and explained that the zoo the commission was planning would not become an amusement park and would enhance, rather than detract, from its surrounding neighborhoods.
The Birmingham Ad Club executed the public appeal for donations, airing a jingle on radio advertisements: "You you you! Gonna get a zoo, zoo, zoo! Animals and cages too! Now it all depends on Yo-oo-ou!". Several donations of exotic animals, including a lion cub donated by Metro-Goldyn-Mayer. Local trade unions pledged to provide cheap labor and the Associated Builders and Contractors pledged construction supervision at cost. Actual monetary donations, however, were much slower arriving. By October 24, 1955 only $84,806.09 of the $250,000 wanted had been secured.
 Jimmy Morgan Zoo
Undaunted, Morgan had city crews clear underbrush from the site and secured assistance from the state in cutting surplus trees. Monkey Island, the first exhibit, opened to the public on April 2, 1955, and helped spark interest in completing the planned zoo, which was soon dubbed the Jimmy Morgan Zoo in his honor.
Though previously envisioned as a quasi-private enterprise, the city formally took over operations on November 1, 1955 and financed the completion of the exhibits under construction, including the Lion House, Hoofed Animal Barn, Bear Moat, Primate House and Elephant House. These were built basically according to plans first drawn up by McCauley, but many changes were made to the design and details in order to meet the city's tight budgets. $66,300 was set forth for the zoo's first year under city control.
A private operator secured a lease to build the first miniature railroad at the zoo in 1957. It became the centerpiece of a Kiddie Zoo that opened in 1958 with more than 100 baby animals, many of the displayed in cages built to look like circus wagons. The zoo traded a pair of Siberian Tiger cubs for a pair of Siamese "black panthers" (melanistic leopards) in 1959, displaying them in the primate house. Other private operators managed the zoo's food and drink concessions, giving the city a cut of the profits.
In 1960 Bob Truett, former head of the reptile house at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, was hired as the Birmingham Zoo's new director. At the same time, the city floated $1 million in bonds, which paid for the completion of the Giraffe House, Reptile House, and a large flight enclosure for birds.
Despite those efforts, Truett still felt that the zoo was still basically a collection of cheaply-constructed buildings housing "miserable roadside menageries". He criticized the professionalism of his predecessor, a former carnival manager. He reported that animals had been feeding on discards from grocery stores and that some of the keepers had been guilty of cruelty. He began a long process to bring the zoo up to contemporary standards of animal care without much financial support from the city. With care of the collection as the top priority, other parts of the operation suffered such as building maintenance, landscaping and customer service. The inadequacy of the zoo's single 8" diameter sewer main caused repeated flooding and led to the drowning death of a six-day old polar bear cub.
In the early 1960s the City Council created a Birmingham Zoological Society as a fund-raising organization, but donations didn't come close to keeping up with declining appropriations as the city prioritized other needs. Though the animal collection and annual attendance kept growing, the budget shrank. In 1969 the zoo's $297,000 budget was used to pay 28 employees to care for 1,045 animals for the benefit of 415,513 visitors. Truett was vocal about the difficulties of "running a large zoo on a small zoo budget", and threatened to close the zoo for three months a year and sell off animals.
 1970s expansions
Spurred by Truett's lobbying, the Birmingham Parks & Recreation Board approved $15,520 to commission a 10-Year Master Plan for zoo improvements from Birmingham architects of Felton Collier and Caroll Harmon on January 14, 1971. Their preliminary proposal, presented on October 13 of that year, called for four phases of redevelopment: In the first phase, scheduled for 1971-73, the Children's Zoo would be expanded, a new entrance plaza created, a new expansive "veldt" for hoofed animals with elevated walkways opened, and a central service area constructed. In phase 2, scheduled for completion in 1975, an education and administration building with a lecture hall would be built, along with a new concession stand, additional parking, and an incinerator. In phase 3, ending in 1978, a new big cat area would be constructed near the veldt, accompanied by renovations to the reptile house and completion of the children's zoo. By 1981, the fourth phase would give the zoo a major outdoor rain forest exhibit along with an aquarium with a penguin pool.
Those plans were realized only in part as new appropriations never materialized and private fund-raising efforts fizzled. One exception was the entrance plaza and offices constructed in 1979 for about $350,000. A wood-sided one-story building wraps around three sides of an entrance plaza facing the fish hatcheries. The structure contains classrooms, offices, ticket windows, a gift shop and restrooms. Still, appropriations from the city remained small and the zoological society did not bring much in the way of leadership. The condition of facilities continued to decline until, in the late 1990s, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association finally withdrew its accreditation.
In 1999, Birmingham mayor Richard Arrington (who earned his Ph.D. in zoology) led the way for privatization of the zoo, recruiting community leaders to serve as the first board of directors of a new organization, Birmingham Zoo, Inc. (BZI) The new organization established a transitional funding package with contributions from four government entities to support BZI during its first five years of operation.
BZI undertook an intense 18-month effort to address the most pressing and immediate problems so that the zoo could become accredited by the AZA once again, ranking the Zoo in the top 10% of animal holding facilities in the nation. The Zoo also received 501(c)(3) status from the IRS, and the first major capital campaign was launched in January 2001.
Bill Foster, joined the Zoo as Chief Executive Officer in January 2004. Foster, a veterinarian and leading zoo management authority on the national scene, is president-elect of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and was president and executive director of the Louisville Zoo.
In the short time following this privatization, the Birmingham Zoo has hosted traveling exhibits of bats, koalas and black-footed penguins, added permanent exhibits of a Komodo dragon and interactive lorikeet aviary, and regained AZA accreditation. The Zoo completed the Junior League of Birmingham-Hugh Kaul Children’s Zoo, a $15 million anchor exhibit dedicated to children and devoted to urban, rural and wild animals and environs of Alabama in April 2005, its 50th anniversary of operation.
The zoo drew a record 540,816 in 2012. The recent low year was 296,102 in 1998 and the previous high was 515,000 in 2007. The largest single-day attendance record was set on March 17, 2009 with 6,845 visitors who got to meet newly-arrived wombats Victoria and Wilbur.
In October 2006 the Zoo was reaccredited by the AZA for a the next 5 years. The zoo currently houses approximately 800 animals of over 200 different species. Trails of Africa, the first major expansion of the zoo since the new Children's Zoo, opened in 2010. The 14-acre exhibit realized many of the intentions of the "Veldt" proposal in the 1971 Master Plan. Numerous herbivores share an open grassland and watering areas, separated from predators by unobtrusive barriers. Numerous ecological and cultural exhibits provide educational opportunities for visitors. Unique to the new exhibit is a "bachelor herd" of bull elephants, helping fill a worldwide need for improved captive breeding techniques.
In May 2011 the zoo's African lions welcomed a litter of five cubs, Asha, Baron, Kimba, Lily and Vulcan. The cubs were relocated to others zoos in August 2012. That same year, the zoo became one of the few institutions to successfully hatch a Kori bustard egg when Kobu was born in June.
- See also Category:Zoo animals.
 Current exhibits
 Former exhibits
- Tom Briskey (1955–1960)
- Bob Truett (1960–1970s)
- Jack Throp (1989–1992)
- Jerry Wallace
- Bill Foster (2004–present)
1. Birmingham Age-Herald (September 9, 1946) and Birmingham News (March 14, 1947), quoted in Johnson-1972
- Hogan, Ben (January 1969) "To 'Mr. Birmingham' the zoo is his trophy" Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- Wilson, Mary Booth (December 21, 1969) "Jimmy Morgan Zoo needs lots of money." Birmingham News
- Isaacson, Dot (October 1971) "Sewage woes, growth pains plague Jimmy Morgan Zoo" Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- Johnson, John W. (1972) "A History of Birmingham's Zoos". Urban Studies 102. University of Alabama at Birmingham - at the Birmingham Public Library
- "Birmingham Zoo." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 May 2006, 13:57 UTC. 9 May 2006, 14:17 
- HIckerson, Patrick. (May 9, 2006) "City zoo on upswing; tops list of tourist draws". Birmingham News.
- "Zoo attendance soars." (March 6, 2007) Birmingham News.
- Thornton, William (December 28, 2009) "Birmingham zookeepers keep circle of life turning." Birmingham News
 External links
- Birmingham Zoo website