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If you were to ask parents and grandparents about childhood memories, it is easy to assume that they have a memory associated with the Zoo in Forest Park. The Zoo has had its fair share of ups and downs, with a history as colorful as the collection of the Zoo’s exotic birds.
The Zoo began its operation in 1892 and was originally operated by the City of Springfield. In 1965 the operation of the Zoo was transferred from the City of Springfield to the Forest Park Zoological Society, a 501(c )(3) non-profit organization, governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. In the 1970s the Zoo fell under pressure from local and federal animal protection agencies and was in need of funding for modernization and renovations. As a result of these pressures and dwindling city and federal support, the Zoo was forced to close its gates in 1982. The monkey house became a city storage center for trucks and equipment, the exotics were transferred to other zoos and “Kiddieland,” a small, one-acre petting zoo relocated next to the park’s rose garden was the only remaining memory of the once beautiful Zoo in Forest Park which is now maintained and operated by the Forest Park Zoological Society.
In 1987, the Zoo in Forest Park re-opened in time for Columbus Day. After years of the Society’s hard work securing money from an Urban Self-Help Grant from the state as well as private fund raising drives, the Zoo went from a single acre to 4.83acres.
Over the last 20 years, the Zoo in Forest Park has expanded to become a home to nearly 175 different animals from exotic to endangered. Our mission still remains the same: To promote public awareness and appreciation for indigenous and exotic animals and to provide educational programming for all ages that encourage respect for the natural environment. Our need for funding also remains the same: Funding is only provided by zoo gate admissions, memberships, adoptions, gift shop and train ride sales, program fees and special events. Being a seasonal operation, money becomes scarce in the winter months, but the Zoo continues to pick itself up year after year to continue to maintain the highest standard of animal care through the dedication of our staff and volunteers. Through thick and thin, the Zoo in Forest Park has become the “little zoo that could.”