Monkey Island was the first animal exhibit constructed for the Birmingham Zoo at Lane Park. It was the brainchild of Mayor Jimmy Morgan and was designed by Charles Snook of Charles McCauley Architects.
Labor to construct the exhibit was donated by local unions and materials, such as slag for concrete aggregate, were donated by industries. The 80 by 120-foot exhibit was built in a pit and made to resemble an island with rocky outcrops using gunite (sprayed concrete). The island was surrounded by a 7-foot-wide shallow moat of water and ringed by a wrought-iron fence. The island was furnished with a playhouse, playground-style "monkey bars" and trapezes. The interior of the structure was a heated room covered in glazed tiles that could be hosed down every evening. A six-foot tall by six-foot wide tunnel, made to accommodate a keeper with a wheelbarrow, connected the room to a building north of the exhibit.
The first monkeys to be exhibited at the zoo included "Alabama", donated by dancer LaBelle Carroll, Romeo, and four others donated by the Kent Animal Hospital. A total of around forty rhesus monkeys were present when the attraction opened to the public in March 1955. Patsy Spencer, daughter of a "Magic Week-end in the Magic City" contest, was given the honor of pulling the rope releasing the monkeys onto their new island home. The ceremony, attended by Mayor Morgan and a "surprise celebrity," was delayed by rain.
In 1999, the spider monkeys then inhabiting the exhibit were moved to the zoo's primate building. Monkey Island was then reconfigured as a habitat for alligators and snapping turtles until 2002, at which time the alligators and turtles were moved out and a duck exhibit moved in. The ducks were moved to the zoo's general pond in 2009, just prior to demolition of the island. On September 25-26, 2009, the zoo held a special event as they dismantled the exhibit and gave visitors an opportunity to purchase pieces of the rocks that made the outcrops.
- Lilliston, Lynn (April 1954) "Kickoff drive for zoo here to be held Tuesday" The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- "Zoo directors get progress report on initial unit." (August 1954) The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- "First in new zoo— Moving day draws near for monkeys" (September 1954) The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- Lilliston, Lynn (October 1954) "[Monks' home at the zoo— Island to look like big rock]"
- Hogan, Ben (January 1969) "To 'Mr. Birmingham' the zoo is his trophy" The Birmingham News
- Thornton, William (September 24, 2009) "Birmingham Zoo to level Monkey Island, last original exhibit". The Birmingham News