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Pittsburgh Zoo

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Pittsburgh Zoo

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium
Date opened June 14, 1898
Location Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA (in Highland Park)

40°29′02″N 79°55′05″W / 40.484°N 79.918°W / 40.484; -79.918Coordinates: 40°29′02″N 79°55′05″W / 40.484°N 79.918°W / 40.484; -79.918

Land area 77 acres (31 ha)
Number of animals Over 4,000
Number of species 475
Memberships AZA[1]
Major exhibits Asian Forest, African Savannah, Tropical Forest, Bears, African Ravine, PPG Aquarium, Water's Edge, Kids Kingdom, Worlds of Discovery

The Pittsburgh Zoo is one of only six major zoo and aquarium combinations in the United States. Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Highland Park, the zoo sits on 77 acres (31 ha) of park land where it exhibits more than 4,000 animals representing 475 species, including 20 threatened or endangered species.

The zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and participates in 64 Species Survival Plans.


The Pittsburgh Zoo opened on June 14, 1898, after Christopher Lyman Magee donated $125,000 (about four million dollars when adjusted for inflation)[2] for the construction of a zoological garden in Pittsburgh's Highland Park. Like most other zoos of the time, the Pittsburgh Zoo more closely resembled a menagerie than an actual zoo. However, as time progressed, the animal exhibits eventually became more naturalistic, and the zoo's goal became more focused on conservation.

In 1937, the bear exhibits were built under the Works Progress Administration. These exhibits were the zoo's first attempt at constructing more naturalistic exhibits instead of simply displaying animals in cages. In 1949, the Children's Zoo opened with a grant from the Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation. The Children's Zoo contained interactive exhibits and play areas for children, including a simulated large chunk of cheese that was inhabited by dozens of live mice. In 1967, the AquaZoo, a large aquarium, opened to the public. At the time of its completion, the AquaZoo was the only aquarium in Pennsylvania and the second largest aquarium in the United States.

In 1980, the Zoo's Master Plan was put into effect. This plan called for extensive renovations and the construction of more naturalistic exhibits. The Asian Forest, which opened in 1983, was the first area of the zoo that utilized this new philosophy of naturalistic exhibits. The African Savanna was the next area to obtain naturalistic exhibits when it was completed in 1987. 1991 marked the opening of the Tropical Forest, a five-acre indoor rainforest showcasing about 16 species of primate and 150 tropical plant species. That same year, the Children's Zoo was renovated and renamed the Children's Farm. Three petting zoos were built in Children's Farm where children could pet kangaroos, deer, and domesticated animals such as sheep and goats.

In 1994, the Pittsburgh Zoo became a private nonprofit organization, owned and operated by the Zoological Society of Pittsburgh. That same year, the Education Complex was built. This new building contained five classrooms, a library, and a 300-seat lecture hall. The construction of this building was an important part of the zoo's history because it signified the zoo's dedication to conservation and education. In 2000, the AquaZoo underwent a $17.4 million renovation, and was renamed the PPG Aquarium. This new aquarium is twice the size of the original AquaZoo. In 2002, the Education Complex was expanded to include a second story, providing more classrooms, teacher resource areas, and an animal holding area. This expansion was made possible by the Scaife Charitable Foundation and by donations from senator Rick Santorum.

On November 19, 2002, elephant keeper Mike Gatti was killed by one of the zoo's elephants.[3] Gatti, 46, was killed while attempting to encourage the elephant to move to a different part of her enclosure.[3] She butted him with her head, crushing him against the ground and killing him instantly.[3] This was the first instance of a human fatality at the zoo.[3]

In 2006, the Pittsburgh Zoo completed Water's Edge, a marine exhibit that allows guests to have close encounters with polar bears, sea otters, and sand tiger sharks.[4]

On November 4, 2012, a two-year-old boy, Maddox Derkosh, who had been sat on the railing to the African painted dogs (a species of wild dog also known as Cape hunting dogs) exhibit by his mother, fell off the railing, bounced off protective netting, and fell into the enclosure. The medical examiner subsequently determined that he was killed by the 11 dogs that had attacked, not by the fall. Zookeepers immediately rushed to the area, firing darts to try and scare the dogs off, and police shot one particularly aggressive dog, which had refused to retreat from the exhibit when called. The other dogs will be quarantined for thirty days but there are not plans to put them down.[5][6][7] The prosecutor, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania District Attorney Stephen Zappala, calling the incident a "tragic accident", has stated he will not charge Maddox Derkosh's mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, 34, who had lifted the visually impaired boy up on top of the railing to get a better view. He is still investigating whether the Zoo is at fault due to any possible negligence.[8]


The Pittsburgh Zoo is divided into seven sections, each of which focuses on a particular theme.

Kid's Kingdom

Kid's Kingdom opened in 1949, when it was then simply called Children's Zoo. This section of the zoo is an interactive children's area, and contains several petting zoo stocked with domesticated animals;[4] a reptile house; a playground; and several exhibits featuring wildlife from Pennsylvania, including the white-tailed deer, wild turkey, American beaver, and river otter.[9]

Kid's Kingdom contains many interactive exhibits, such as the meerkat exhibit, which contains crawl-through tunnels that gives the viewer an idea of what it is like to be a meerkat or other burrowing animal.[10] The animal yards and habitats in Kids Kingdom allow visitors to learn about animals' lives, behaviors, and points-of-view. Kid's Kingdom has been highly ranked by both Parent Magazine and America's Best Zoos Travel Guide.[11]

PPG Aquarium

Built in 1967 (then called AquaZoo) and renovated in 2000,[4] the PPG Aquarium is a 45,000 square foot, two-story aquarium that presents several aquatic habitats. The aquarium's theme is the "Diversity of Water", and contains several exhibits that portray different marine ecosystems, including a tropical rainforest inhabited by tamarins and piranha; a Pennsylvania exhibit, which features fish and aquatic wildlife of the Allegheny River, such as the brook trout; a penguin exhibit, which is inhabited by kings, macaronis, and gentoos; a coral reef; a stingray tunnel; and an open ocean exhibit.[12]

Asian Forest

Asian Forest contains several species from Eastern and Southeast Asia, and simulates a journey from the Himalayas to Indonesia. This section features some of the most critically endangered big cats of Asia, including the Amur leopard, Amur tiger, and snow leopard, as well as several other Asian animals, such as the Komodo dragon.[13] This section, opened in 1983, of the zoo is the result of the Zoo's Master Plan of 1980, which was dedicated to create more naturalistic exhibits than what existed at the time.[4]

Tropical Forest

The Tropical Forest, which opened in 1991, is a 16-acre indoor rainforest. This building focuses mostly on primates, and contains 16 species of lemurs, monkeys, gibbons, and great apes, including gorillas and orangutans;[4] however, several other types of rainforest animals are displayed here, such as sloths and poison dart frogs.[14]

African Savanna

Like the Asian Forest, the African Savanna is also a result of the Zoo's Master Plan of 1980.[4] Completed in 1987, this section of the zoo is modeled to give the viewer the impression that he is walking along a river in an African savanna. This section of the zoo contains lions, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, springbok, and cheetahs.


The three bear exhibits were built in 1937 under the Works Progress Administration program, and are the oldest exhibits in the zoo.[4] Three bear species are displayed here: American Black Bears, Spectacled Bears, and a Kodiak Bear.[15]

In August 2010, the Pittsburgh Zoo announced that their 28-year-old Kodiak bear, Rocky, died. Rocky was suffering from severe arthritis in the joints between his vertebrae, causing severe pain and limited mobility. Although the veterinary staff attempted to alleviate Rocky's pain, his quality of life continued to rapidly decline, and he had to be humanely euthanized. As of August 2010, his exhibit is currently empty.[16]

The zoo is currently in the process of renovating the entire bear exhibit.

African Ravine

The African Ravine exhibit was originally planned to exhibit African Painted Dogs (which left the zoo because of a tragedy) and cheetahs, but due to restraints, only features the former. Visitors can step onto a balcony and view the canines from multiple angles.

Water's Edge

Completed in 2006, Water's Edge is the newest section of the zoo, and is located adjacent to the PPG aquarium. This section is constructed to resemble a coastal fishing village, and illustrates the ways that humans interact with marine wildlife in coastal areas. A long walk-through tunnel runs through three large water tanks containing polar bears, sea otters, and sand tiger sharks.[17]

According to Barbara Baker, the shark exhibit was originally intended for a walrus, but walruses are difficult to obtain. The sharks are temporarily being held in the exhibit while the zoo waits for a walrus.[18]


On September 12, 1999, one of the Zoo's female African elephants, Moja, successfully gave birth to a female calf, later named Victoria. This was a major feat for the Zoo, because Victoria was the first African elephant to be born and survive in North America since 1982. Also, she was the first to be born to a captive-born mother. A second calf, a male named Callee, was born to another female named Savannah almost exactly one year later on September 19, 2000. The father of both of these calves is a bull named Jackson, who is currently the only male African breeding naturally in North America. Both Moja and Savannah became pregnant again in 2006. On July 9, 2008 Savannah gave birth to a female calf named Angelina. Moja gave birth to a female as well on July 25, 2008. This calf has been named Zuri.

On August 8, 2006, the Zoo's female Amur tiger, Toma, gave birth to a litter of three cubs. This is also a major accomplishment because Amurs are endangered, and every successful litter counts a great deal. Although one of the cubs died of a heart defect in September (a female named Nadya), the other two are healthy and doing well. The surviving cubs are a male named Petya and a female named Mara.

Another Amur tiger cub was born to Toma on May 11, 2008. The male cub, Grom (name meaning Thunder for he was born during a thunderstorm), had been taken from his mother because Toma was not being very attentive to him. Handlers later determined that it is most likely because Toma is not producing enough milk, if any at all. On September 12, 2008, the baby cub was named after Billy Ray Cyrus, the country music and television star. Zoo representatives said the donors who paid to name the cub “Billy Ray” wanted to honor a late family member who was a big Cyrus fan.

Billy Ray will likely grow up to be about 11 feet long and weigh 450 pounds, according to the Zoo.

In 2010, three cubs were again born to Toma, and to Taiga their father. All three are doing very well at the zoo. Toma is caring for all three.

On June 13, 2009, a baby sea lion was born. Other recent births include two North American river otters and a pair of baby beavers.

On October 25, 2009, Vega, one of the Zoo's African painted dogs gave birth to a litter of nine puppies. Vega died the next day, leaving her puppies orphaned. To help nurse and raise the dogs, the Zoo found a domesticated dog from a local shelter who had recently given birth and was still lactating. This mutt, named Honey, immediately took to the puppies and weaned them. At the same time, the Zoo's vet staff hand-fed the puppies a liquid diet fortified with enzymes. Although, four of the puppies died - the mortality rate for African Painted Dogs is 50 percent, even in the best of conditions - the remaining five are healthy and doing well at the Zoo.[19]

The future

On August 2010, the zoo announced an expansion project tentatively named "Top of the World". This new addition to the zoo will be located on top of the large hill behind the bear exhibits, and will overlook the entire zoo. This new section will focus entirely on threatened and endangered animals. Some of the zoo's current residents, such as the snow leopards, orangutans, and Spectacled bears will be moved from their current locations to larger and more suitable exhibits at the Top of the World. Several other species are being considered for this new section, including jaguars, Przewalski's horses, Chinese alligators, Philippine crocodiles, and many other threatened animals.[20]

The Top of the World will also contain a new animal hospital and a large reptile house. Baker has stated that she wants to put a large emphasis on endangered amphibians throughout the new reptile house. She also plans to dedicate a section of the reptile house to threatened herps of Pennsylvania, such as the hellbender and massasauga rattlesnake.


External links

Pittsburgh portal
  • PPG Aquarium official site at the Pittsburgh Zoo
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