Denver Zoo. Zoo in Denver, Colorado

Denver Zoo

Zoo in Denver, Colorado

Denver Zoo Giraffe Sculpture Photo © Steve

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Denver Zoo

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Lion -
	Denver Zoo
Lion - Denver Zoo. Photo by Dave Dugdale
The Denver Zoo is a popular animal park in Denver, Colorado. Founded at the end of the 19th century, the park covers 80 acres in the City Park area of the city. The zoo’s origins can be traced back to a black bear cub that was given to the mayor of Denver. In 1918, with the opening of the exhibit, Bear Mountain, it became the first zoo in the United States to house its animals in naturalistic habitats rather than in cages with bars.

The zoo focuses on education as well as research and conservation. It is part of the American and World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and, together with other zoos, works on the Species Survival Plan, which aims to prevent the global extinction of several endangered animals, particularly frogs and other amphibians. Denver Zoo has been successful in several of its breeding programs. Examples are the birth of three maned wolf pups, two emperor tamarins, two red pandas and eighteen American flamingos.

A few fun events are held in the zoo as well, most notable the ‘Boo at the Zoo’ event on Halloween, which is popular among kids, and the ‘Zoo Lights’ throughout December, featuring hundreds of animated lights depicting the zoo’s animals.

Okapi -
	Denver Zoo
Okapi - Denver Zoo. Photo by Steve

Grant's Zebra - Denver
Grant's Zebra - Denver Zoo. Photo by Steve


Denver Zoo was established in 1896 after a black bear cub was given to Thomas S. McMurry, mayor of Denver at the time, as a gift. The cub, named Billy Bryan after an American politician, proved to be quite hard to handle and was handed over the Alexander J. Graham, who was the keeper of City Park. He began a zoo with this one animal. The other animals in the zoo were native prairie dogs and antelope that lived in the area and native waterfowl in Duck Lake. A number of Chinese pheasants were the only exotic animals present; they would later populate the plains in the east of Colorado. The zoo’s collection was enhanced with several red squirrels in 1905, which were so aggressive that they decimated the native bird population in Duck Lake.

Denver Zoo was home to a bunch of random animals until 1906, when mayor Robert W. Speer decided that the prison bars should be removed and landscapes of waterfalls, trees and rocks created. The renowned Bear Mountain exhibits was designed and opened in 1918, the first naturalistic habitat in any zoo in the United States. Since then, many other exhibits and habitats have been added.


The zoo has many exhibits housing species from the world over. There are carnivores, hoofed mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, primates and so on. Pretty much every major animal family is represented. In total there are more than 4,000 individuals of 600+ species.
	Bears - Denver Zoo
Polar Bears - Denver Zoo. Photo by Ken Lund

Bear Mountain

The Bear Mountain exhibit is a National Historic Landmark and is currently home to Asian black bears and grizzly bears. Other animals in this section can be seen at Monkey Island and Sheep Mountain.

Toyota Elephant Passage

This is the flagship exhibit of Denver Zoo. The 10-acre, $50-million USD Toyota Elephant Passage was the largest man-made bull elephant habitat in the world. The more than two miles of trails take visitors past elephants, tapirs; rhinoceros, leopards; pythons, gibbons; and otters.

Primate Panorama

This 7-acre habitat is home to the zoo’s apes and monkeys. This is where you can see gorillas, orangutans, mandrills, aye-ayes, and red river hogs.

Tropical Discovery

The Tropical Discovery exhibit features animals of coral reefs and humid jungles, such as komodo dragons, clown fish, lionfish, and several colorful frogs.

Predator Ridge

Predator Ridge, with its catchy name, is the zoo’s home of African lions, African wild dogs, and spotted hyenas.

Other exhibitions

Additional exhibitions in Denver Zoo are Northern Shores, Felines, Pachyderms, and Birds.

Visiting Denver Zoo

The zoo is laid out in a large loop, making it easy to get around in take in all exhibits. The exhibits are located both inside and outside the loop. Besides the animals, there are several other sights and activities to be seen and done in the zoo. The Endangered Species Carousel displays handmade wooden sculptures of the zoo’s most popular residents, including a baby gorilla, a polar bear with cub and giraffes. Additional attractions are the Pioneer Train, the Gates Wildlife Conservation Education Center, and the Wild Encounters amphitheater.

Lorikeet - Denver Zoo
Lorikeet - Denver Zoo. Photo by Steve

How to Get There

Denver Zoo is located in the east of the Denver city center between 17th Avenue and 23rd Avenue, only a couple of miles from Larimer Square and the Colorado State Capitol. There are more than a dozen bus stops around the zoo, making it very easy to get to.

Similar and Nearby Landmarks

Other cultural landmarks in Denver include the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Elsewhere in the world, you may want to visit Taronga Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo and London Zoo.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Feb 16, 2015

Pictures of Denver Zoo

Denver Zoo
Denver Zoo. Photo by Kris Carson


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