8 Fun Facts About the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

April 14, 2020 67 Comments

8 Fun Facts About the Cincinnati Zoo

It’s a Cincinnati institution, of course, that is enjoyed by generations of Tristaters year-round. From Festival Lights to watching Fiona splash about, there’s always something fun to do and see at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Here are eight fun facts about the zoo:

1. It’s the 4th Oldest Zoo in America

The Zoo was founded in 1875 by Andrew Erkenbrecher, a German immigrant who found great success as an industrialist in Cincinnati, and the Society for the Acclimatization of Birds, of which he was a member. It was preceded only by the Central Park Zoo (1864), Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo (1868), The Roger William Park Zoo in Providence, RI (1872), and the Philadelphia Zoo (1874).

2. It’s also a botanical garden- it’s right in the name!

It was originally called the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens and was designed to mimic similar facilities back in Erkenbrecher’s native Germany. In 1985, it became accredited as a botanical garden, and the name was officially changed. Today, the zoo not only helps in the conservation efforts for endangered animals but plants as well.

3. The home of Martha, the last passenger pigeon

Even folks who didn’t grow up in the area know the story of Martha. She was the last living passenger pigeon. In the late 19th century, passenger pigeons filled the skies, making them tempting targets for hunters. Named for the first First Lady, Martha Washington, Martha the pigeon died at the zoo in 1914. 


The zoo was also home to Incas, the last living Carolina parakeet. The Carolina parakeet suffered the same fate as the passenger pigeon. Incas passed away in 1918. The species was declared extinct in 1939.

4. It’s the sexiest zoo in America

For many years now, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden has been on the leading edge in the breeding of endangered species. It was the first zoo to use artificial insemination and was the first to breed a gorilla from a test tube. It was Newsweek that dubbed it “the sexiest zoo in America” based on its highly successful breeding programs. Those breeding efforts continue to this day, of course.

5. America’s LEED-ing zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is also known as the greenest zoo in America. It all started when the zoo hired civil engineer Mark Fisher in 2006. Mr. Fisher soon insisted the zoo adopt a more environmentally friendly way of doing things. This approach was not only good for the planet it turned out but saved the zoo a lot of money.

The zoo was among the first to use LED lights for its holiday light display and to construct all new buildings to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for sustainability.

6. Get schooled at the zoo

The zoo offers overnight adventures and camps to elementary school students, as you may know, but were you aware that you can go to high school at the zoo via the zoo academy? A college doctorate program is also offered through Miami University in Oxford.

7. Record-setting animals

Apart from Fiona, and her amazing story, the zoo has been home to several other animals of note. Tojo was an American alligator acquired by the zoo in 1923. He lived to be 70, the oldest alligator in captivity. The zoo is also home to the fastest cheetah and the largest Komodo dragon, as well as the only aye-aye (a type of lemur) in captivity.

8. The former home of the Cincinnati Opera

From 1920 to 1973, the Cincinnati Opera’s home was the Cincinnati Zoo. The company, as well as guest singers from around the world, performed on a stage and bandshell located where the gibbon island is today. The Opera left after one of its patrons, Patricia Corbett, funded an air conditioning system for Music Hall.

Hear more about the zoo on The Cincy Shirts Podcast with episodes featuring Thane Maynard, zoo keepers, and cheetah ambassadors.


Photo: Ltshears via Wiki Commons




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I miss going to the Cincy Zoo since I moved to central Kentucky. I loved it for myself since I was a child but as I got older I loved watching all the children react to the animals. None other like Cincy Zoo!!!

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