A World Class Zoo
November 24, 2009 by J Seth Anderson
My cardinal rule writing about Downtown Phoenix is that the things I write about must be located Downtown. I know there is debate about the how we geographically define Downtown; or me, it’s the warehouses just south of the train tracks, north to McDowell and from St. to 7th Ave. (Yet even my clearly defined boundaries have exceptions.)
This week I am breaking my cardinal rule and writing about something that is not located Downtown but is one of my favorite places in the Valley: The Phoenix Zoo.
Nestled between the buttes, lakes, desert, and palm trees of Papago Park, the zoo sits on 125 acres with 1,200 animals and 2.5 miles of trails and pathways and is the largest non-prophet zoo in the United States. It opened in November 1962 and was called the Maytag Zoo; (after Robert Maytag, of Maytag fame, who helped make the zoo a reality) and renamed the Phoenix Zoo the following year. It struggled financially in the 60s but saw better days in the 70s, 80s and 90s as it expanded and was able to add more animals.
The Phoenix Zoo was home to the elephant Ruby who gained national attention in the 90s for her artistic prowess. Art collectors the world over paid top dollar for original prints of her paintings, which eventually raised over $200,000 for the zoo. (I try not to dwell on the fact that an elephant has accomplished more than me.)
Gaia, the new female Komodo Dragon, is a celebrity in her own right. She is the first Komodo Dragon in captivity to reproduce by parthenogenesis. (She reproduced without mating.) I can’t get over how cool that is.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, the zoo has Komodo Dragons! If you follow me on Twitter [jsethanderson] you would know that, because it was pretty much the only thing I talked about on Twitter for weeks. I got a few (ok, a lot) of emails from people saying, “We get it! Stop talking about the Komodo Dragons!” But I can’t. They are my new favorite animals. Dragons, Dragons, Dragons.
The new exhibit is part of the zoo’s “World Class Zoo for a World Class City” campaign, which is raising funds for other renovations. The most important redevelopment (according to me) is the new Orangutan exhibit. The current one was constructed in the 70s and at the time was considered state of the art. By current standards, it’s quite shameful. In addition, the campaign is raising money for a new Sumatran Tiger exhibit, new amenities for guests, and new infrastructure to support the zoo as it grows over the next 50 years.
Phoenix is continuing to emerge as a great 21st Century city. All great cities have a great zoo. Phoenix has one that proudly represents the status of the city, and it’s getting even better.