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An Enchanted Anniversary: 25 Years of the Tisch Children’s Zoo

September 30, 2022

An Enchanted Anniversary: 25 Years of the Tisch Children’s Zoo

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Madeleine Thompson Madeleine Thompson

Twenty-five years ago, in September 1997, the Tisch Children’s Zoo opened at the Central Park Zoo.

At the time of its opening, the Tisch Children’s Zoo was the only one in the country geared toward children of pre-reading age. Young children (above, from 2007) were greeted into an enchanted world of ponds; log bridges; huge artificial oaks; oversized, climbable, animal sculptures; and, of course, living animals. These included 30 new species, from axolotls to Vietnamese pigs. Storybook graphics by noted children’s book artist Ted Lewin and wildlife illustrator Laurie Caple brought additional magic to the experience. At the zoo’s Cowin Acorn Theater in that first year, kids could dance to performances like “Metamorphosis Boogie” and “I Eat Bugs,” starring a crooning frog named Frankie.

The new zoo had to contend with challenges in its development, not least among them some New Yorkers’ grumblings about the removal of the old zoo’s whale sculpture, known as Jonah’s Whale or Whaley. Yet over its quarter-century history, Tisch Children’s Zoo has become a beloved New York City icon itself, welcoming millions of young visitors into its world.

The zoo was created through the generosity of the families of Laurence A. Tisch and Preston Tisch, with support from the City of New York and eight foundations, including the Joyce and Daniel Cowin Foundation.

New York City, US Map It


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Denise McClean
September 30, 2022 at 2:07 pm

wow, does that take me back! I remember going to community boards with the team to present the new design for the Children’s Zoo. The outcry over the blue whale was incredible – everyone had to relate their childhood stories about the blue whale. Nice, but it was time to move on and create memories for the new kids on the block.