The zoo in Pocatello, Idaho is a unique one, with the experience to match. It is divided by a towering cliff of lava rock. The cliff is around 40 feet tall, and divides the zoo into two sections, Upper and Lower Ross Park. It covers close to 24 acres, and is home to 77 different animals, with close to 40 different species.
But that’s not where the zoo started. It has grown over the years, and has become one of the only zoos that specializes in animals from the Intermountain West. The zoo’s beginning was far more humble, though. It began in a trailer park, with a raccoon named Pete.
The Opening of the Pocatello Zoo
It was 1932. The Pocatello Zoo opened its doors to the public, with just two animals. The zoo was in a local trailer park, run by William Raymond. William was the superintendent of the Park Department, and his grandson, John Marshall, helped with the zoo. The first animals were a monkey and a raccoon. The monkey, Josephine, was a rhesus monkey. And the raccoon, Pete, was donated by the twelve year old, John. He caught Pete underneath the Portneuf Bridge, and he was more than happy to help the fledgling zoo.
During the spring and summer, it was a sight to behold. William and John would put a collar and leash on Pete, and take the raccoon to the river. Pete would enjoy catching crawdads and snails. They did this twice a month. It would have been an entertaining adventure, watching the raccoon run around on a leash and finding a meal in the river. Pete and Josephine lived in wire pens, but during the cold winter, Josephine would live in John’s garage, kept warm with an electric heater and heat lamps.
Fortunately, the trailer park zoo was temporary. A former Pocatello mayor, and then current governor, C. Ben Ross used funds to buy land for a park and zoo in Pocatello. They picked an area of Pocatello with natural lava rock, and it became Ross Park, and the new home of the zoo.
Building the Pocatello Zoo
William remained as the Park Superintendent, until he passed away in 1943. But for those eleven years, he and his grandson worked on creating pens at the Pocatello Zoo, and finding more animals. They actually trapped many of the animals.
The zoo grew from a monkey pen, to include pens for raccoons, badgers, coyotes, and bobcats. Eventually, they added an enclosure for a bear. The enclosure included a volcanic rock cave, and an orphaned bear named Jigs. Jigs was rescued from Mac’s Inn in Yellowstone. He was only three months old. John took care of Jigs until the bear was old enough to live in the zoo. Until then, Jigs lived on John’s back porch.
As time went on, they found more animals, including two deer. Like most animals, John kept the deer in his garage until they could be moved to the zoo. They also had bobcat cubs and coyote cubs.
Adding a Grizzly
The crowning achievement of the Pocatello Zoo was the addition of a grizzly bear. Charlie came to them from Alaska when he was three, in 1978. He was likely orphaned, and he was a gentle bear. He became the face of the zoo, and lived another 31 years at the zoo. But he didn’t live there alone.
Charlie gained a friend in 1991, in the shape of Stripes, a two-year-old female grizzly. Stripes came from Ohio, and the two bears became fast friends. They were together for 18 years. Unfortunately, Charlie passed away in 2009. Stripes was devastated, and she spent her time pacing the enclosure.
A New Home
In 2012, Stripes received a new home. The old grizzly enclosure was completely redone. It covers a half-acre, and has plenty of natural habitats for Stripes to enjoy. There’s a pond with live fish, trees, and even a stream. Only two years later, Stripes welcomed a new friend to share her space. Shoni was trapped just outside of Cody, Wyoming, and with days she joined Stripes at the Pocatello Zoo.
An Improving Zoo
The Pocatello Zoo has come a long way from Pete the raccoon and a trailer home. With a lot of hard work, and determination, the zoo has continued to grow. While it’s been outdated, work has been underway to improve the zoo and make it better. The Pocatello Zoo really is a unique experience, and it’s definitely something you should check out if you live in the area.