Location: 450 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn
The Prospect Park Zoo opened on October 5, 1993, becoming the fifth facility in Wildlife Conservation Society‘s unique network of wildlife parks in New York City. Brooklyn‘s new zoo has a long history. First it was a menagerie, established in Prospect Park in the late 1800‘s. This collection of animals became the more formal Prospect Park Zoo on Flatbush Avenue that opened to the public on July 3, 1935. A Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, the zoo was part of a massive city-wide park improvement program led by then-Commissioner of Parks Robert Moses.
As was the case with the Central Park Zoo, time and increased knowledge about the needs of zoo animals eventually made the Prospect Park Zoo obsolete. Through a partnership forged in the early 1980‘s with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, WCS agreed to renovate and manage a new zoo in Prospect Park. (The Central Park Zoo and Queens Zoo are the other two city zoos operated by WCS through this public/private partnership.)
Groundbreaking for the Prospect Park Zoo project occurred in August, 1989, beginning the $37 million renovation of the badly deteriorated zoo. Some architectural aspects of the old zoo were saved, but inhumane conditions that existed there were eliminated. Naturalistic habitat exhibits replaced bars, cages, and pits. And three major exhibit areas were designed to engage children, especially, in learning about wildlife: The World of Animals, Animal Lifestyles, and Animals in Our Lives. These approaches to wildlife education are based on WIZE (Wildlife Inquiry through Zoo Education), the nationally-acclaimed education programs developed by Bronx Zoo educators.
In the World of Animals, youngsters can meet prairie dogs nose-to-nose, and walk among wallabies. The Animal Lifestyles building‘s centerpiece is a spectacular habitat for hamadryas baboons. Animals in Our Lives exhibits encourage children to observe and draw wildlife; outside, visitors can interact with friendly, touchable species in an inviting barnyard. The Prospect Park Zoo‘s education department offers year-round classes and programs, too, for school groups and the general public.
Prospect Park Zoo’s Education Department designed a new after-school program with the Maple Street School in Brooklyn. The Zoo Crew, more than a hundred students who ranged in age from five to nine, and 150 Tadpoles, ages two to four, explored the world of animals and nature and acquired an appreciation for their non-human neighbors. In March, 30 families from the Maple Street School crafted several types of enrichment items for zoo animals and learned about animal nutrition and behavior.
In partnership with Community School District 15, a pilot program incorporated “authentic learning” principles into the fifth-grade science class. Teachers learned elements of zoo collection planning and exhibit design; Christine Sheppard, Curator of Ornithology at the Bronx Zoo, explained the science of collection planning; and students studied exhibits so they could design a “new” zoo. The project culminated in two parent days, attended by more 300 families. Parents received information on how to bring their children to the zoo for an educational outing and each family was given a reference book on zoo animals.