If anyone tells you that it's all happening at the Denver Zoo, you should believe it's true. Located in the popular Denver City Park, the entrance to the Denver Zoo is on 23rd Avenue between Colorado Boulevard and York Street; it's easily accessible from downtown Denver and the Lower Downtown area. The Denver Zoo is open every day of the year. From Oct.1-March 31 the hours are from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission gates close at 4:00 pm. From April 1-Sept 30 - 9 am to 6 pm. Admission gates close at 5:00 pm.
While there are many other zoos throughout all of North America, the Colorado Denver Zoo is famous for its rather peculiar history. It all began in 1896 at City Park when a bear cub by the name of William Jennings Bryan became a troublesome pet for Denver Mayor Thomas S. McMurray. The mayor decided to give "Billy" to Alexander J. Graham, the keeper of City Park. Today, Graham's house at 2080 York Street is now a designated Denver landmark. When Billy gobbled up his chickens, Graham built the first cages of what would become the Colorado Denver Zoo.
In 1896, the Colorado Denver Zoo consisted of native wild fowl at Duck Lake. Prairie dogs and antelope were also occupants of the tract set aside as City Park. Unfortunately, not all of the Denver Zoo animals were appreciated. When red squirrels were imported in 1905, the furry animals reproduced at rabbit speed and eventually took over the zoo. The hungry, egg-eating rodents decided to invade City Park's Duck Lake thereby reducing the population of native and imported birds from 83 to 12. The Audubon Society urged the city to shoot the squirrels, but animal lovers stood in protests of these public executions. The squirrels were spared, but they were banished to the Denver Mountain Parks.
The Denver Zoo animals were a sad collection of caged and chained creatures until Robert W. Speer became mayor in 1904. In 1906 he appealed to the civic pride of the good people of Denver:
"Our animals in City Park need new homes. Prison bars can be done away with… Concrete rocks, waterfalls, trees, etc., with a moat in front would make animals even in captivity feel at home".
Speer asked the city's landscape architect to draw plans for improving the Colorado Denver Zoo. The mayor appointed a Denver native as zoo director. In 1918, Bear Mountain was built. This artificial hill is 43 feet high and 185 feet long. The natural habitat was built of tinted and textured concrete that was cast from formations on Dinosaur Mountain. Toda, hidden moats, native plants and a natural looking stream surround the barless bear pits that make up Bear Mountain.
The south tip of Bear Mountain was constructed to resemble a cliff dwelling like those at Mesa Verde National Park. It was assumed that this type of construction would make a perfect home for the zoo's monkeys. Lo and behold, the first monkey arrived in 1917 bearing the name Woodrow Wilson. Although Woodrow would soon have plenty of company, the clever monkeys kept escaping from their cliff dwelling. It was therefore converted to a sea lion habitat. However, with the help of the WPA in 1937, Monkey Island was installed.
In 1986, when Bear Mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places it received a $250,000 restoration grant. Today, there are over 3,500 Denver Zoo animals that represent over 600 species. Kids are delighted with the marine animals at Tropical Discovery, where they can wander along the tropical riverbank to watch the fresh-water and marine fish and exotic turtles swim in the 2,250-gallon azure pool. The Denver Zoo animals at Predator Ridge consist of African species of mammals, birds, and reptiles including two prides of lions.
The Colorado Denver Zoo is just one of the many great attractions in Colorado. Be sure to leave time to explore the entire town.