Very few people can say that they were a member of three important zoo organizations. Born in Pittsburgh, 79-year-old JoAnne Driscoll, a resident at Treemont Retirement Community, was an active member on the docent council, raised funds as a Zoo Friend, and served on the Zoological Society of Houston. It is easy to say that Driscoll holds a special place in her heart for the Houston Zoo.
“My kids grew up at the zoo,” Driscoll said. “I had grown up with the zoo in Pennsylvania, and been out of a zoo for several years now. It was great to be in a city to take my daughter to the zoo, and it was always a favorite place of mine. I’ve got a long history with the zoo, and it’s always been one of my favorite things.”
Driscoll recalled that as a member of the docent council for 11 years, one of her favorite activities was to visit the contact yard located in the Children’s Zoo. She was a Zoo Friend for 15 years and a member of the Zoological Society for 11 years.
“I really do think that the time and days I spent associated with the zoo was really some of the happiest times I’ve had in Houston,” Driscoll said.
From the small fence to the now size of 55-acres, from city-operated to privatization, and from small collections of a few species to 6,000 animals of 900 different species, it is easy to say that the Houston Zoo has come a long way since that first bison. Over the years these changes are what Houston residents recall the most, which is one of many things the zoo has to celebrate for its 100th year anniversary in 2022.
“The zoo was very different from when I was taking my kids there,” Driscoll said. “I was there when the zoo went from a city zoo to a private zoo, and the best change is that there are more animals because I love that we’re getting a group of gorillas, but there is also more money to feed and take care of all these animals.”
In July 2002, the Houston Zoo became a private non-profit organization with a 50-year lease and operating agreement from the City of Houston. This public/private partnership has proven to be mutually beneficial for everyone and allowed the zoo to undertake the most ambitious scope of improvements in its entire history.
“One of the biggest changes from the transition was when the zoo was focusing primarily on education and conservation, and Rick Barongi from Disney was brought in as the director and reintroduced the element of entertainment,” Driscoll said. “I think in this world we live in, it’s important to educate people but to also make it entertaining to stick with them, so that they can come back and remember everything. I think that it’s been a good thing.”
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