Zoo Boise: The Heart of Downtown

As you explore the zoo, following the pathways to the next exciting exhibit, did you ever wonder how Zoo Boise came to be? Sure, you might be preoccupied with the giant tiger in front of you, or the leopards prowling in the shade. And sure, you might be distracted with the giraffe eating a piece of lettuce from your hand and trying to lick your face. But have you thought about how all of this started?

Today, Zoo Boise is an impressive and massive complex. It is home to an impressive 83 different species of animals, and the location of education and special events and exhibits. But the zoo didn’t always start out so grand. In fact, it started out meagerly, and was even in danger of being shut down many years ago.

An Escaped Chimpanzee

If you had visited the zoo back in 1916, it wouldn’t have been near as impressive. When it began, it only had a handful of birds. They were incredibly rare birds, given to the zoo by the Sportsman’s Club, but that was it. At least until the addition of an unusual guest. Around the same time, a travelling circus passed through Boise, and apparently, they lost a chimpanzee. Okay, so the circus didn’t lose the chimpanzee. It escaped. But, all was well, and the chimpanzee ended up at the fledgling zoo.

The zoo stayed small for some time. The police department actually took care of the animals in the 1920s, by rummaging local restaurants and grocery stores for scraps of food. That’s right, the zoo animals were fed leftovers. However, by World War II, the zoo had become home to around 40 different species.

The Doors Were Closing

The zoo, however, was not doing well. It was ignored and not well-taken care of, and in 1961 it was almost shut down. However, the City of Boise didn't turn its back on the zoo. A group of citizens was formed, that is now, today, the Friends of Zoo Boise. They were chosen to discover why the zoo was failing. As I'm sure you've guessed, they were successful. Over the years, they gathered money and raised awareness. Even the city chipped in to expand and secure the future of the zoo.

Over the years, Friends of Zoo Boise helped create a better and bigger zoo. New, and rare, animals were brought to the zoo, like the Amur leopards. In September of 2002, the continued improvements to the zoo, animal care, and education paid off. Zoo Boise earned accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This is an incredible feat, because only a small percentage of zoos are ever granted admittance to this association. Zoo Boise was accepted because of its high standards across the board.

Feel the Heartbeat

Now, the zoo is thriving, and home to over 80 different species and over 200 animals. It’s a hub of education, knowledge, wildlife preservation, and protecting nature for future generations. It sits in the heart of downtown Boise, in the Julia Davis Park. It’s a beautiful zoo, full of life and wonder, and the experiences of a lifetime.

If you’d like to be a part of the zoo, and give back to such an important piece of Boise’s past, present, and future, you have plenty of opportunities. Zoo Boise is a non-profit organization, and as such, they rely on the generosity of its patrons, as well as the admission fees. And there are plenty of ways to give to the zoo.

You can simply make a donation. It’s easy, and a great way to help Zoo Boise if you don’t have a lot of time. You can also become a member of the Friends of Zoo Boise, and become a more active part of helping the zoo thrive. You can participate in the adopt-an-animal program, and sponsor one of the animals. Funds go toward exhibit upkeep, special food needs, and training for the keepers. For more information, or opportunities, visit Zoo Boise online.

Next time you wander through the zoo, remember its meager beginnings. An escaped chimpanzee became one of the first animals at the zoo, and look how much the zoo has grown since then. Zoo Boise is a central part of Boise, and serves as the heartbeat of downtown Boise, creating a pulse of life and nature amidst the concrete and asphalt roads and buildings.

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