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Bronx Zoo’s African Plains 75th Anniversary

April 28, 2016

Bronx Zoo’s African Plains 75th Anniversary

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Madeleine Thompson Madeleine Thompson

“A new vista to the wonders of Nature.”  

This is how New York Zoological Society (now Wildlife Conservation Society) President Fairfield Osborn described the brand new African Plains exhibit when it opened 75 years ago on May 1, 1941. The exhibit—with its bringing together of several African species, including lions, zebras, nyalas, and many birds, into an expansive savannah landscape—was indeed a new vista for the Bronx Zoo. Whereas previous Bronx Zoo exhibits were conceived around animal orders or families and often indoors (think of the old Lion House, the Monkey House), the African Plains brought together animals based on geography, and it placed them in a naturalistic setting.

And while other zoos had experimented with the African Plains’ style of naturalistic, bar-less enclosures, the Bronx Zoo was pioneering in developing an exhibit intended to show the ecological relationships among animals and their natural environments. Educating the public about these interdependencies was central to Osborn’s vision for how the Bronx Zoo could help to further wildlife conservation goals worldwide, and this vision still remains at play not only in the African Plains today, but also in the development of modern Bronx Zoo exhibits, like Congo and Madagascar.

For more on the history of the African Plains and additional images, please visit the WCS Archives blog, Wild Things.

Watch vintage footage of CBS News Crew meeting the Bronx Zoo lions.


Bronx, USA Map It

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2 comments

shirley chaiet
April 28, 2016 at 11:18 am

I remember the opening of the bar less african plains and visiting it quite often==was part of the pioneering spirit of the great Bronx Zoo–glad that my grand daughter is part of it now

Madeleine Thompson
May 2, 2016 at 10:44 am

Thanks for your comment, Shirley! It’s lovely to hear from people who had first-hand experience with these major events. And glad that Jennie is carrying on the tradition! :)