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Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

By 1907 the Wade Park Zoo on Cleveland's East Side had outgrown its limited space, so the city council decided to move the zoo to Brookside Park. Monkey Island, Sea Lion Pools, bear exhibits, and elephants joined the roster of animals Clevelanders could visit, but the original Wade Park site also continued to operate for the next three decades. After the Cleveland Museum of Natural History was constructed in the portion of Wade Park vacated by the original zoo, the museum took over operations of the Brookside Park zoo, which the city continued to own. In 1975, mirroring a wave of divestiture of city assets, the municipal government transferred the zoo to the Cleveland Metroparks. In the years that followed, the zoo continued to upgrade its exhibits in keeping with an international trend toward more humane animal enclosures several decades in the making. As early as the 1920s, the San Diego Zoo was the nation's most noted park to commit itself to matching natural habitats as closely as possible.

Marking the latest progression in zoo habitat development, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo opened African Elephant Crossing in May 2011. Cages that gave the animals little room to move gave way to modern facilities that allow for the types of exercise these animals would get in the wild. Cleveland's first zoo elephant was Minnie, who arrived in 1907 and was purchased with "Pennies for Pachyderms" money from a Cleveland Press fundraiser. The next step occurred in 1956 when the Pachyderm House opened at the Cleveland Zoo. The stampede of excited children nearly trampled the master of ceremonies, Gordon Stouffer, son of the Cleveland-based Stouffer Foods founders. The method of training the elephants became known as elephant school. Due to their size and strength it is crucial that the elephants be able to follow commands. These days the zookeepers work with Moshi, Jo, and Martika. The elephants are trained to cooperate so that they can be examined daily to prevent health problems.

The recent elephant habitat is only the latest in a long line of improvements made since the 1970s. Under Cleveland Metroparks' supervision, the zoo expanded by building the Primate and Cat Building. Biothematic zones have been developed and expanded upon over the years. Today, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo includes The Rainforest, Wolf Wilderness, Australian Adventure and the Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine.

Audio

One of the Nation's Oldest Zoo Buildings Steve Taylor explains the origins of the ice cream shop on Waterfowl Lake. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Schreckengost and Mastodon The Mammoth and Mastodon sculpture, located outside the Pachyderm House, was a large piece by Cleveland's eminent sculptor and industrial designer Viktor Schreckengost. The extinct mammals stood 12 feet tall and also won awards for their creator. On the day the building opened, there was such excitement that Gordon Stouffer was nearly knocked down after cutting the ribbon to open the building. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Deer House on Waterfowl Lake The Victorian-style Deer House, originally located in the old Wade Park Zoo in University Circle, is one of the oldest zoo buildings in the United States that is still in use. Once the home of the deer of Wade Park Zoo, the Deer House was moved to Waterfowl Lake in Brookside Park after the City Council moved the zoo in 1907. It is currently being used as an ice cream parlor. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Cleveland Memory Project.
Brookside Park Zoo Postcard The Brookside Zoo opened in 1907. It shared many of the same features as the Wade Park site it replaced with the added benefit of greater space for expansion. The zoo remained connected to family walks, ponds for fishing and baseball games until expansion of the animal exhibits resulted in less of a park-like setting. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Minnie the Elephant Minnie was the first elephant at the zoo. She arrived in 1907 after a fundraising campaign publicized in the Cleveland Press secured the funds for her purchase. Most of the money for Minnie came from local school children through the "Pennies for Pachyderms" drive. Her arrival signaled a trend in Cleveland with the zoo creating newer and better exhibits featuring elephants. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Elephant Ride for Children Elephants are very popular with children. This photo shows a group of kindergarteners taking a ride on one of the Cleveland Zoo elephants. Today's elephants do not give rides but they do enjoy more activity of the kind that emulates their behavior in the wild through carefully crafted zoo habitats. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Frieda at Bat Frieda was another beloved elephant at the Cleveland Zoo. She is shown doing some publicity for the zoo by swinging a baseball bat for the crowd of observers. The elephant school would train the elephants to do tricks simialr to those seen in circus performances. Today's elephants do not perform in shows but they can show us what they might act like naturally. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Simba and Tara Simba and Tara were two elephants at the zoo that developed an affinity for each other. When Tara died, zookeepers were concerned about the impact on Simba's health as she grieved for her lost companion. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
CTS Zoo Bus The Cleveland Zoo has offered a rare advantage to local students. For many years it has offered a zoo bus that can pick up students at their school and bring them to the zoo at no charge. In a time of reducing field trips due to fuel costs, this is an even better opportunity. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Location

3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland, OH 44109

Metadata

Lisa Alleman, “Cleveland Metroparks Zoo,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 29, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/506.