The Philadelphia Zoo’s 42-acre Victorian Zoological Garden is home to more than 1,300 animals, many of them rare and endangered. The Zoo, fulfilling its mission of conservation, science, education and recreation, supports and engages in conservation efforts to protect endangered species around the world.
Since the early 1700′s, the idea of an American zoo was inspired by English settlers with a keen interest in wildlife and by sailors and hunters who returned from faraway lands with exotic animals they’d never seen before. People would gather and pay shillings to see animals such as lions and elephants displayed at places like general stores and museums. As a hub of scientific inquiry and discovery over many years, Philadelphia’s well-known leaders of the time began to formulate the idea of a zoo. In the mid-1850′s, a prominent Philadelphia physician, Dr. William Camac-the Zoo’s founding father-became involved and led the way to making America’s first chartered zoo a reality.
The Zoo opened its gates on July 1, 1874 and the grounds are much the same today as they were on opening day, including the Frank Furness (an acclaimed architect of the Victorian Era) Victorian gates and gatehouses.
It is very much a city zoo, with trains rumbling past and colorful graffiti lining the walls of the entrance to the zoo. But once inside, you are transported to a magical place that celebrates natural habits, is full of lush landscaping, Victorian sculptures and public art.
One of its assets, then and now, is John Penn‘s home, The Solitude, which sat on the land chosen for the Zoo. John Penn was the grandson of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. The Solitude is considered to be Philadelphia’s most precise and elegant expression of neoclassical style.
In its first year of operation, the Philadelphia Zoo had 813 animals and received well over 228,000 visitors. Today, the Zoo has more than 1,300 rare and endangered animals, and its attendance is approximately 1.1 million visitors a year.