50th Anniversary - Celebrate 50 years with a trip through time

50th Anniversary

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In 1999, we celebrated 50 years of
creating warm family memories
and compassion for wildlife.

Since 1969, the Zoo has helped to inspire thousands of people to pursue careers in animal care, education and a variety of sciences — and stirred millions more to show compassion toward animals, the environment and to appreciate having a Zoo in their community. We at the Zoo are deeply proud of the role we play, the differences we make within our community and of the collective impact AZA-accredited organizations are having worldwide

Join us as we celebrate 50 fantastic years! There’s lots of stories to share, things to do, sights to see, and new animals to meet as we head in 2019! Below, learn more about the celebration fun we have waiting for you.



On Jan. 31, 2019, the Zoo kicked off its 50th year with a grand celebration at the Olmsted. Over 400 former and current staff, board members, volunteers and docents attended and toasted to an amazing 50 years. Guests enjoyed a special video that addressed the question “what is the value of the Louisville Zoo in our Community?”

More videos…


With a half-century of fun to explore, we have lots of exciting Zoo milestones to share. Click below to choose a year and see what Zoo exploits, historical events and pop culture phenoms were happening at the time. Try selecting your year of birth for extra fun!


  • The Louisville Zoo opened on May 1, 1969, 7 days a week.
  • 250 animals were on exhibit.
  • Admission price was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children 5 – 14. Children under 5 were free.


  • The Zoo offered its first yearly memberships.
  • An albino wallaroo, the Zoo’s first baby yak and baby llama Mistletoe are born.
  • A female black swan “Black Velvet” is given to the Zoo by Zachary Taylor Elementary School to join the male black swan already in residence.
  • Marlin Perkins, “Mr. Zoo,” star of the television show Wild Kingdom and former Director of St. Louis Zoo, speaks at the Louisville Zoo.


  • 5 month old Siberian tiger “Ethel” arrived at the Zoo.
  • Construction on Monkey Island began.
  • Cochrane Elementary School students buy the Louisville Zoo a pygmy goat “Mr. Buckle” for the Children’s Zoo area.


  • Monkey Island exhibit opened.
  • Forty African green monkeys arrived at the Zoo.
  • Two lion cubs were born.


  • Baby elephant Punch arrives at the Zoo.
  • Three lesser pandas are placed on exhibit.
  • Churchill Downs donates $2,000 to the Zoo for a zebra in honor of Secretariat.
  • W. L. Lyons Brown gives the Zoo 8 cranes.


  • Robert Bean becomes the Zoo’s second director.
  • The puma exhibit opened.
  • Lion triplets are born.
  • Arctic wolves arrive at the Zoo.
  • Gift shop called “The Monkey’s Uncle” opens.


  • Louisville Zoo Docent program begins.
  • Two polar bears arrive at the Zoo.
  • Twin Siberian tigers are born.


  • The Zoo’s first polar bear exhibit opened.
  • Louisville Zoo parking fee is 50 cents.
  • The Zoo hires its first education curator, David Jenkins.
  • A baby Thomson’s gazelle is born.


  • The Zoo hired its first full time veterinarian, Dr. Bill Foster.
  • The first gray seal and first giraffe were born at the Zoo.
  • Smith, a great horned owl and star of Smith Furniture and Appliances commercials, came to live at the Zoo.
  • The Zoo’s Siberian tiger exhibit wins a design award from the Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.


  • The old chimp show area becomes an education center. The stage is transformed into the Exploration Stage where visitors can have hands on experiences with a few animals, biofacts and activities.
  • A campaign to raise money for the HerpAquarium begins.
  • Docent guided tours and on site classes begin.


  • New Siberian tiger exhibit opens. Tanya the tiger has three cubs.
  • Gray seal Lucy gives birth to twin pups, making the Louisville Zoo the first instance of live, twin gray seals born in a managed environment.
  • The Louisville Zoo Society cookbook is published.


  • Louisville Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AZA).
  • Zoo’s first “Run with the Animals” and “Zoofari!” are held. Zoofari is interrupted by tornado warnings and soaked guests in formal wear take shelter in the train tunnel, animal hospital basement and education building. No animals or people are harmed.
  • The Zoo is designated as the State Zoo of Kentucky by the Kentucky General Assembly for “…its natural environment design, professional quality and dedication to education, conservation, research and recreation…”
  • Zoo admission prices increase to $2 for adults and 75 cents for children.
  • Two Siberian tiger cubs are born: Butch and Sundance.


  • The bald eagle exhibit opens.
  • The MetaZoo Education Center opens.
  • The Zoo’s first polar bear cub Maku goes on exhibit.
  • Famous primatologist Dian Fossey speaks at the Louisville Zoo during the American Association of Zoo Keepers conference.


  • Safari Day Camp education program begins.
  • The Zoo presents “Halloween at the Zoo” for the first time. It features a pumpkin judging.
  • Trinity High School Students donate money and the Zoo acquires five Pere David deer, which are extinct in the remnant wild.
  • 2 year old baby elephant Jana arrives at the Zoo.


  • A serval is born and raised with a litter of domestic kittens.
  • The Zoo unveils a new master plan that includes a gorilla exhibit and an exhibit for reptiles and aquatic animals.
  • Jana the elephant walks in the Kentucky Derby Parade.
  • Gray seal Peppermint Pattie is born.


  • The world’s first successful transfer of an exotic equine embryo (Grant’s zebra) to a domestic equine (quarter horse) is accomplished at the Zoo. The result is the birth of a zebra named Equuleus (after the constellation). Equuleus is latin for “little horse.” He was called E.Q. for short.
  • Twin Siberian tiger cubs are born and nursed by Rosemary the dog.
  • Polar bear cub Isbjorn is born.


  • Grand opening of the expansion of the new white rhino exhibit.
  • Six woolly monkeys arrive from Scotland.
  • White bengal tiger visits Zoo for the summer.


  • Four Vietnamese pot bellied pigs arrive at the Zoo.
  • Young orangutans Tyrone and Tasha visit the Zoo.
  • Zoo rehabilitates mallard ducks injured in Beargrass Creek diesel fuel spill.
  • Polar bear cub Ulu (born Dec. 1985) is viewable to the public for the first time.


  • Elephant Mikki arrives at the Zoo.
  • Night Safari program begins.
  • A koala arrives at the Zoo for the summer.


  • The Australian Walkabout opens.
  • Bill Foster becomes the Louisville Zoo’s third Director.
  • The Louisville Zoo is awarded the prestigious Edward H. Bean Award for it’s woolly monkey propagation program.
  • The HerpAquarium is under construction.


  • The HerpAquarium opens.
  • Two polar bear cubs are born, Dmitri and Sitka.
  • The Louisville Orchestra presents the first Roarchestra Concert series at the Zoo.


  • The 20thanniversary of Earth Day brings 30,000 visitors to the Zoo in a single day.
  • The North American Wild Cat exhibit opens
  • The Black Footed Ferret Conservation Center is completed.
  • Renovation of the polar bear exhibit including underwater viewing windows is completed.
  • A new ZooTram system is introduced.


  • The Louisville Zoo becomes one of the only five facilities to participate in the breeding program of the black footed ferret.
  • Three maned wolf pups are born.
  • Zoo introduces four new Hartmann’s mountain zebras to the zebra exhibit.
  • Real sea monsters exhibit comes to Zoo for summer including robotic replicas of a giant squid and white shark that move and make noises.


  • The warthog exhibit, wattled crane exhibit and arachnid exhibit open.
  • Polar bear triplets Aurora, Aquila, and Arcturus are born.
  • Sculptor Paul Fields completes “Molly”, a life size white granite rhino, donated by Donna Stone in memory of her parents.
  • First Chilean flamingo eggs hatched.
  • “On the Wild Side with the Louisville Zoo”, a new monthly television show produced by Storer Cable begins.
  • 13 black footed ferret kits are released in Wyoming as part of conservation efforts.


  • The Louisville Zoo Youth Board is formed.
  • First California sea lion birth occurs: a male pup named Bart.
  • Rare black footed ferrets go on exhibit at the MetaZoo Education Center.
  • The polar bear triplets Aurora, Aquila, and Arcturus go on exhibit.
  • The Zoo receives an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Award for its black footed ferret recovery program.


  • Elephant Mikki marches in the Derby Parade as the Zoo celebrates it’s 25th anniversary.
  • Komodo dragon, Mariah, arrives from the Cincinnati Zoo and goes on exhibit in the HerpAquarium.
  • The first Eggstravaganza is held at the Zoo.
  • The first Hartmann’s mountain zebra is born at the Louisville Zoo.


  • Zoo wetlands trail opens for use in education programs.
  • White bengal tiger arrives at Zoo for summer.
  • Keepers hand raise a prematurely born dromedary camel.
  • A second pair of twin polar bear cubs are born to Zaleska: Buzz and Neil. They go on exhibit in early 1996.


  • Orangutans Teak and Amber arrive at the Zoo.
  • First half of the Islands opens including outdoor village exhibit area.
  • Animals in the new Islands exhibit included orangutans, Sumatran tiger, Malayan tapir, siamangs, and black footed penguins.
  • A bronze Komodo dragon statue unveiled.


  • Phase II of Islands Pavilion opens with penguins, Cuban crocodiles, Rodrigues fruit bats, Asian fishing cats, and tropical birds. Pavilion also includes the Gheens Room and a classroom. Betty White joins dignitaries in opening the exhibit.
  • Sumatran orangutans Bella and Segundo arrive at the Zoo.
  • Bill Nye, the Science Guy, visits the Zoo.
  • Tsavo the lion “disappears” to the alarm of Zoo officials and neighbors, but is discovered shortly afterward hiding in his exhibit.


  • BOMA, the Louisville Zoo’s African Petting Zoo, opened.
  • African Outpost opens as the Zoo’s first indoor restaurant.
  • White alligator Hal goes on exhibit in the Islands pavilion during the spring.
  • Louisville arts groups perform at the Zoo including StageOne, Louisville Opera and Kentucky Shakespeare.
  • The American Association of Zoos and Aquariums honored the Louisville Zoo with the 1998 Exhibit Award recognizing it’s Islands exhibit for excellence and innovation.


  • The Zoo’s front entrance and plaza is renovated. New gift shop opens.
  • Molerats and meerkats arrive at the Zoo.
  • The Zoo’s first ecological study of native Kentucky wildlife, tracking and monitoring the hibernation habits of timber rattlesnakes in Bernheim Forest.
  • Zoo begins partnership with Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.


  • The Zoo’s first playground opened near the African Outpost.
  • Conservation Carousel made its debut with 46 horses from 1919.
  • The Zoo hosts African Family Festival event.
  • Mauritius pink pigeon chicks hatch and are fledged in Forest Park Trail.
  • Two babirusa piglets are born.
  • The Zoo has first successful breeding and egg laying of Cuban crocodile.
  • Koala Pangari comes to the Zoo for the summer.


  • 270 foot mural along Newburg Road created by Byron Roberts of Unique Murals is completed.
  • A temporary walk through butterfly exhibit, Living Jewels of the Munro Maya, comes to the rain forest area of the HerpAquarium.
  • Zoo unveils bronze silverback gorilla sculpture in Gorilla Forest created by Bill Wieger.
  • Komodo dragon Naga comes to the Louisville Zoo, as well as female lions Kariba, Amanda, and Azania.
  • Rockhopper penguins are born at the Zoo for the first time.


  • The Zoo celebrates Gorilla Forest exhibit open.
  • “Louie” a giant inflatable gorilla, is featured in Gorilla Forest fundraising, Derby Parade and Gorilla Forest event opening festivities.
  • Male gorillas Bengati and Jelani arrive from Lincoln Park Zoo.
  • Silverback gorilla Jojo arrives at the Zoo in September from Lincoln Park Zoo, along with females Bahati, Makari and Tabibu.
  • The first issue of Backyard Action Hero is distributed to elementary students statewide.


  • Four Cuban crocodile eggs hatch.
  • A gorilla is born to Makari and Jojo, the first gorilla birth at the Zoo.
  • The Zoo’s partnership with Eco Cell phone recycling begins.
  • The Zoo hosts its first Greater Louisville United Labor Picnic.
  • A rare African open billed stork hatches.
  • A two ton buffalo sculpture by Saw Artist Stan Schu arrives at the Zoo.
  • The American Association of Zoos and Aquariums honored the Louisville Zoo with the 2003 Exhibit Award recognizing Gorilla Forest for outstanding dedication to conservation issues and construction of exhibit space replicating species’ natural habitats.


  • John Walczak becomes the Zoo’s fourth Director.
  • The first Brew at the Zoo fundraiser is hosted at the Zoo.
  • Three Sumatran tiger cubs are born.
  • Lorikeet Landing is under construction.
  • Zoo receives AZA’s North American Conservation Award for the Puerto Rican Crested Toad Species Survival Plan Conservation Partnership.


  • Lorikeet Landing at Rainbow Springs, a walk through aviary opens.
  • Kibibi, a pygmy hippo, is the first to be born at the Zoo.
  • King Louie, the 6 foot long rare white alligator arrives.
  • Polar Bears International and the Louisville Zoo become partners.


  • The Wallaroo Walkabout exhibit and Billabong Playground opens.
  • The first white throated ground dove to ever hatch in captivity is born at the Louisville Zoo.
  • The Etscorn Garden, named for its benefactors Irvin F. and Alice S. Etscorn, opens.
  • Vampire bats go on exhibit in the HerpAquarium.


  • The first elephant birth at the Louisville Zoo, Scotty, occurs in March.
  • Glacier Run Splash Park opens.
  • Two Brazilian ocelots come to the Zoo.
  • 30 Panamanian golden frogs are new additions to the HerpAquarium as part of an AZA effort to help stem the tide of their extinction.
  • The Zoo implemented its first ever “conservation contribution” where 25 cents of each admission and $1.00 of each membership sold goes directly to support conservation projects.


  • New entrance decor to the Zoo with colorful painted patterns and banners.
  • The Tiger Tundra exhibit renovated and becomes Alice S. Etscorn Tiger Tundra.
  • Groundbreaking for new Glacier Run exhibit.


  • The Adventure Ropes Courses open.
  • New gift shop opens.
  • First ever Madagascar teal duck is born at the Zoo.


  • Three grizzly bears arrive from Montana as part of a rescue program.
  • Dinosaurs! temporary exhibit arrives at Zoo with 16 robotic creatures.
  • Seals and sea lions return to the Zoo when their new exhibit is opened in June.
  • The Zoo begins partnership with conservation group Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA).


  • Official opening of the Glacier Run polar bear exhibit.
  • Qannik the polar bear arrives from Anchorage.
  • The Zoo’s new 4 D theater features Dora & Diego and Planet Earth: Ice Worlds.


  • Three bongo babies are born.
  • A male giraffe is born to Malaika and Walker.
  • The Zoo’s 4D Theater features The Polar Express.
  • Dinosaurs! an exhibit with animatronic dinosaurs, returns to the Zoo.
  • The Zoo receives Top Honors in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums 2012 Award for Exhibit Design for its Glacier Run exhibit.


  • Rocko the maned wolf arrives from National Zoo in Washington DC.
  • Steller’s sea eagles exhibit opens and includes red breasted goose and azure winged magpie.
  • Snowy owl exhibit opens.
  • Snow leopard Kimti arrives as the Zoo as well as California sea lion Gremlin.
  • The Zoo receives the “Significant Achievement Education Award” by AZA for its School at the Zoo program, a weeklong experience for 4th and 7th grade students.


  • Big, Big Bugs: 13 larger than life animatronic bugs arrive as a temporary exhibit.
  • Birth of 1,000thblack footed ferret kit at the Zoo.
  • Zoo reticulated python, Thelma, gives birth without the benefit of a male snake (parthenogenesis), the first documented case for species.


  • New Wild Burger restaurant opens in the Zoo’s Australia zone.
  • Gorilla Jelani becomes an international sensation after video of him responding to a cell phone video goes viral.
  • Sean Kenney’s Nature Connects® LEGO® Brick Sculptures exhibit featured at the Zoo with 30 sculptures.


  • Penguin Cove opens.
  • Gorilla Kindi is born.
  • Camel rides come to the Zoo.
  • New lion sculpture near African Outpost by artist Tom Tischler is unveiled.
  • Canadian lynx sisters Sage and Matilda arrive.


  • New Butterflies n’ Blooms outdoor flight house opens with native butterflies.
  • The Zoo becomes a certified Monarch Way Station.
  • Pony rides come to the Zoo.
  • The Zoo hosts its first Flutter Fest, a celebration and monarch butterfly release, in partnership with Louisville Idlewild Butterfly Farm.
  • Maned wolf pups Cora and Catina are born.


  • Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks featuring 13 sculptures by Sean Kenney returns to the Zoo.
  • Louisville Zoo water fountains receive upgrade with new refill stations thanks to Louisville Water Company.
  • Zoo gift shops no longer use plastic bags for purchases.


  • Schmidt’s red tailed monkeys and colobus monkeys arrive at the Zoo.
  • Snow Leopard Pass opens.
  • Colobus Crossing opens.
  • Alice S. Etscorn Tiger Tundra is renovated to connect to Snow Leopard Pass and becomes Alice S. Etscorn Tiger Taiga.
  • Mascot Miles the giraffe and Leroy the rhino are introduced to guests.
  • The Zoo celebrates its 50thanniversary!


A precious new addition to storytime is coming for your little ones: “The Truth About Zoos,”  the Louisville Zoo’s first children’s book

Young readers will meet Annie – a sleuth for the truth who is questioning zoos.

 “Annie’s Awesome Adventure” is available in the Zoo’s Gift Shop.

Learn more…