From the small fence to the now size of 55-acres, the Houston Zoo has grown exponentially not just in size but in the number of species that call the zoo home. Starting out with a small collection of a few species to 6,000 animals of 900 different species, Houstonians like 75-year-old Mary Ann Chambers can recall a time when the zoo was only a fraction of the size of what it is now.
“I can remember as a young child going to the zoo either with my mother or great uncle, and it was always such a treat to see what I thought then was a large variety of animals,” Chambers said, who is a resident at St. Dominic Village and was born in Roscoe, TX. “Of course, I know now from the early ‘40s is that it was probably much smaller than what it was now, but it’s been a while since I’ve been out there.”
In January of 1989, after being accredited by the then-known-as American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA), the zoo initiated a public admission fee of $2.50 for adults and 50 cents for children. In 2000 the zoo opened the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo and continued to improve throughout the years with the addition of various species such as the komodo dragons and jaguars. And in July 2002, the Houston Zoo became a private non-profit organization with a 50-year lease and operating agreement from the city.
“What impressed me most was how much it grew,” Chambers said. “When I was a little girl, I would go to the zoo and it would seem big and yet we’ve had such wonderful additions to it so to me that’s always been important.”
The 1990s also saw the $1.2 million renovation of the Janice Seuber McNair Asian Elephant facility, as well as extensive renovations of the Aquarium and Tropical Bird House. Many of these improvements were financed through the popular Zoo Ball parties.
“What was significant to me were the elephants because they’re such large animals and yet they move with so much grace,” Chambers said. “My great uncle loved animals and going to the zoo as a child was such a treat, so I think that’s where I got my love for animals. True, animals are not like humans, but we all age similarly.”
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