Columbus Zoo Had Origins Downtown

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Now the top zoo in the country, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium had a meager start.

The zoo originated in downtown Columbus in 1927 at what is now Franklin Park, after the Wolfe family, owners of The Columbus Dispatch and WBNS-10TV, had extra reindeer left over from a celebration.

The donation of a few animals grew and within 10 years, the zoo began its first membership drive, according to Dale Schmidt of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The city took over zoo operations in 1951, 10TV’s Tracy Townsend reported.

“It was downtown, and they moved it out to here, because this was city property right on the reservoir for the city water source,” Schmidt said. “At the time, people thought it was way too far.”

The new spot gave the zoo room to grow, but a popular person’s attention help the organization really grow, Schmidt said.

“Jack (Hanna) started the “Touch the Heart to Teach the Mind” concept here, where we get you close to the animals than a lot of other zoos and give you those opportunities you would never have in your lifetime,” Schmidt said.

Under Hanna’s leadership, the zoo expanded its animal exhibits and funding. In the 1990s, Hanna took on the role of zoo director emeritus.

Expansion has been the focus of the zoo in the past few years, Schmidt said.

“We opened Polar Frontier in 2010, and it has been a huge exhibit, a wonderful exhibit. In fact, (it has been) an award-winning exhibit in the zoo and aquarium association.”

An African Safari exhibit is up next, Townsend reported.

“Giraffes are coming back. Zebras are coming back,” Schmidt said. “So, we’ll have giraffe feeding, and eventually, when we add rhinos to that area, we’ll have rhino feeding, also. Eventually, you’ll have also some safaris like out in the wild.”

The zoo’s recent partnership with The Wilds, near Zanesville, brought the organization back to its core.

“Particularly in the breeding programs. We breed animals throughout the nation, throughout the world, paying close attention to their genetics,” Schmidt said. “The wilds have been amazingly successful at that.’

He said that nine cheetahs and the first fourth-generation rhino were born in captivity last year.

“Our hope is, and we’ve done this at The Wilds, is to repopulate a certain species and then release some of them in the wild,” Schmidt said.

The zoo’s board approved spending more than $30 million for the Africa exhibit, which is set to open in the summer of 2014.

On Monday, the new Stingray Bay is slated to open.

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