9 Wild Facts About the Bronx Zoo

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iStock

Even if you’ve never set foot in New York, you almost certainly know of the Bronx Zoo. Opening its doors for the first time in 1899, this sprawling 250-acre wildlife reservation has over 4000 different animals and 650 species. Take a look at a few things you might not have known about one of the world’s most famous zoological retreats.

1. IT WAS CO-CREATED BY A TAXIDERMIST.

William Temple Hornaday was working as a taxidermist for the Smithsonian Institution when he noticed that the nation’s population of bison was shrinking. Eager to promote conservation efforts, Hornaday used his voice with the Smithsonian to spread the word about the threatened species. After a spat with the Institution, he was approached by the New York Zoological Society in 1896 to serve as director of the Bronx Zoo. In doing so, Hornaday helped bring the bison back from the brink of extinction by sending several of the Zoo's bison back out west in 1906. He remained with the zoo for 30 years.

2. IT ONCE HOUSED TASMANIAN TIGERS.

Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers, were nearing extinction in the early 1900s, but the Bronx Zoo was able to acquire several for exhibition beginning in 1902. The first lived for six years; the next two, arriving in 1912 and 1916, lived only a short time in captivity before perishing. The zoo's last thylacine was secured in 1917. The species was thought to have died out in 1936, but in early 2017, several eyewitness accounts of the distinctive animals were reported in Australia. Zoologists are working to determine if the thylacine might still be alive.

3. THEY EXHIBITED A MAN.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In the most ignoble chapter in the zoo’s history, organizers opened an attraction in 1906 that featured a "Mbuti pygmy” or “bushman”—an African man named Ota Benga. Benga and other tribesmen had been brought to America by anthropologist Samuel Verner at the behest of organizers of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair so visitors could gawk at them in mock-up villages. When the fair was over, Verner brought Benga and others back to Africa: the two struck up a friendship, and Benga reportedly asked to come back to the States. Verner approached the Bronx Zoo with the prospect of Benga becoming a fixture: Hornaday agreed to let him live on and roam the grounds. Public outrage followed, and Benga was released after just two weeks to the care of an orphanage. He committed suicide in 1916.

4. THE ZOOKEEPERS HAD TO BE TOLD NOT TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE BEARS.

Too much children’s literature about cuddly bears may have proven disastrous for early zookeepers at the park. In 1919, Hornaday told the New York Tribune that he had to constantly warn his employees not to try and befriend the mammoth bears housed on the property. Two keepers ignored his advice; both had to be pried from the clutches of the bear and suffered “severe” injuries.

5. IT’S HOME TO A REMNANT OF THE ICE AGE.

Not all of the Zoo’s attractions are feathered or furred. The Rocking Stone sits near the World of Darkness exhibit and packs 30 dense tons into a formation standing 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The boulder was carried by glaciers in the last Ice Age. The “rocking” label came from the fact that the stone was so perfectly balanced that it could be moved with slight pressure. The Zoo, fearing someone might one day push it too far, eventually shored up the base to keep it on firmer footing.

6. THEY ONCE SAVED A SPECIES OF TOAD THAT WAS DECLARED EXTINCT.

The kihansi spray toad was in dire circumstances in 2009: A hydroelectric dam in Tanzania had dried up mists showering a five-acre area near Kihansi Gorge, the toad's only known micro-habitat, and the species was officially declared extinct in the wild. Fortunately, Tanzanian authorities had seen the situation coming and allowed the Bronx Zoo to come in and obtain 499 toads to bring back to America. A portion went to the Toledo Zoo; both facilities spent nearly a decade breeding them in a captive assurance population. The Zoos replicated their habitat while Tanzania created a gravity-operated misting system that would restore water. Roughly 100 toads were returned in 2010 as test cases; a full-scale reintroduction followed in 2012.

7. A COBRA ONCE ESCAPED (AND SIGNED ONTO TWITTER).

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Animal escapes have been few and far between at the Zoo. One of the most publicized was the the disappearance of a 20-inch venomous Egyptian cobra in 2011. Zoo officials weren’t certain how the reptile broke out of her habitat, but felt confident she would remain in the building. She did, and was found after a week’s search. In the interim, someone on Twitter engaged 203,000 followers with the freed snake’s fictional exploits. It’s still tweeting.

8. IT SET AN ORIGAMI ELEPHANT WORLD RECORD.

In 2016, the Zoo was recognized by Guinness World Records as having the largest displayed collection of origami elephants in the world: 78,564. The display, which was briefly open to the public, was intended to draw attention to the plight of the creatures and their poaching rivals through their 96 Elephants campaign meant to stop the trafficking of ivory. The Zoo is down to just three live elephants, and has vowed not to acquire any more once they pass. On August 3, 2017, Zoo organizers plan to crush two tons of ivory in Central Park as part of the awareness campaign.

9. IT HAS PLANS FOR YOUR POOP.

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With thousands of daily visitors, the Bronx Zoo could probably make use of its own sewage system. Instead, the park unveiled an eco-friendly restroom on park grounds in 2006 that captures human waste and diverts it into compost. The system, which uses only six ounces of water per flush, is estimated to save a million gallons of water a year.

Want to learn more about the Bronx Zoo? Catch The Zoo, a documentary series now airing on Animal Planet. New episodes premiere in February.

12 Perfectly Spooky Halloween Decorations Under $25

Amazon/shopDisney
Amazon/shopDisney

Halloween is right around the corner—which means it’s officially time to bring out the jack-o'-lanterns, watch scary movies, buy your costume(s), and hang up your festive decorations. Although there are thousands of decorations to choose from, you don’t have to blow your budget while decking out your house or apartment in honor of the spooky season this year. With a little guidance, you'll find plenty of ways to create the perfect ambiance at home without going for broke. (And best of all, you can put the money you saved toward extra Halloween candy to stash away.)

From giant spiders to hanging ghosts and lawn decorations, here are a few of our favorite props under $25.

1. Halloween Pillow Covers (4-Pack); $17

ZJHAI/Amazon

These adorable Halloween-themed pillowcases make the perfect accessory for any couch, sofa, or mattress. Made with thick linen fabric, these are durable, sturdy, and designed to last for seasons to come. (Tip: To prevent the zipper from breaking, fold the pillow in half before inserting.)

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black Lace Spiderweb Fireplace Mantle; $12

Aerwo/Amazon

This versatile spiderweb prop is made with 100-percent polyester, and its knit lace spiderweb pattern adds a spooky touch to any home. Display it on your doorway, across your fireplace mantel, or atop your table. (It also makes a great backdrop for Halloween photo ops.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Statement Halloween Signs; $16

Dazonge/Amazon

These festive, statement-making banners come pre-assembled, making them incredibly easy to install. They’re also weather-resistant and washable for both outdoor and indoor use. Use tape, push-pins, or weights to prevent the signs from blowing away.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Jack Skellington and Sally Plush Dolls; $23 (Each)

Disney

Celebrate your favorite holiday with a pair of adorable Jack Skellington and Sally plush dolls from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack stands at 28 inches tall, while Sally is a bit shorter at 21 inches. Set them up on your sofa or against the window sill for all to see.

Buy them: Disney Shop (Jack and Sally)

5. Halloween Zombie Groundbreaker; $22

Joyin/Amazon

This spooktacular zombie lawn decoration is sure to scare all of your friends, family, and neighbors alike. Made with a combination of latex, plastic, and fabric, this durable Halloween prop is sure to last for years to come.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Hanging Ghost Decoration; $14

Moon Boat/Amazon

Drape this handmade, 14-foot-long hanging ghost decoration over your porch, doorway, or window. You can also hang it outdoors over a tree or a (very tall) bush. And, since it comes pre-assembled, you won’t have to waste time constructing it yourself.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Two-Piece Hanging Ghost Set; $17

GeeFuun/Amazon

This pair of ghosts adds a whimsical touch to any home. While they’re not “scary,” per se, they certainly are adorable. Display them in your front yard, on your porch, on a lamppost, or a tree. To hang, simply tie the ribbons and bend the wires, arms, and tails.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Pumpkin String Lights; $19

Eurus Home/Amazon

Not only are these solar-powered, 33-foot-long LED string lights good for the environment, they’re also incredibly easy to install (no long, tangly power cable chords necessary). Since they’re waterproof, you can use them both indoors and outdoors. Choose from eight different light settings, including twinkling, flashing, fading, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Inflatable Ghost; $22

Joiedomi/Amazon

This adorable inflatable ghost (which dons a cute-as-can-be wizard hat!) features built-in LED lights and sandbags to help it stay sturdy. It also comes complete with a plug, extended cords, ground stakes, and fastened ropes. Simply plug it in and watch it magically inflate within just a few minutes.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Graveyard Tombstones; $17

meiguisha/Amazon

Turn your front lawn into a graveyard with this six-piece set. Each tombstone is made with foam and designed to add a touch of spookiness to your space. To install, insert one holder into the bottom of the tombstone, and one into the soil. You can use these indoors, as well.

Buy it: Amazon

11. 10-Piece Skeleton Set; $24

Fun Little Toys/Amazon

This skeleton set includes a skull, hands and arms, and legs and feet—plus five stakes to hold everything in place. Each “bone” and “joint” is flexible, allowing you to prop the skeleton into different frighteningly fun poses. Simply place the stakes into the bone socket and turn clockwise.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Outdoor Spider Web; $18

amenon/Amazon

This giant, ultra-stretchy spider web spans a whopping 23 feet. It also includes a 30-inch black spider, 20 pieces of fake spiders, one hook, and one nail. Its thick polyester rope—combined with the sturdy stakes—allows the spider web to stay in place all season long. Place the hook on a wall or tree, and expand the web using the stakes.

Buy it: Amazon

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6 Bizarre Halloween-Related Lawsuits

Halloween scares can sometimes invite legal action.
Halloween scares can sometimes invite legal action.
inhauscreative/iStock via Getty Images

For most people, Halloween is a time to be someone other than themselves and enjoy a party atmosphere. But occasionally, those relaxed inhibitions can result in legal trouble. Take a look at several strange cases involving costume malfunctions, collapsing pumpkins, and other spooky court filings.

1. An Inflammatory Situation

Homemade Halloween costumes carry risks.hudiemm/iStock via Getty Images

In 1984, Michigan natives Frank and Susan Ferlito attended a Halloween party. Susan was dressed as Mary of Mary and Her Little Lamb fame; Frank was her animal sidekick. Susan achieved Frank's lamb look by gluing cotton batting made by Johnson & Johnson to his long underwear, effectively covering him in flammable material from head to toe. For reasons known only to Frank Ferlito, he decided to light a cigarette using a butane lighter. His left arm was set ablaze, and Frank suffered burns on over a third of his body.

The coupled sued Johnson & Johnson. In 1989, a jury awarded Frank Ferlito $555,000 and Susan Ferlito $70,000. In 1991, Johnson & Johnson was successful in petitioning for a new trial, in part because the Ferlitos had each admitted to knowing that cotton would burn if it was exposed to flames. While the plaintiffs argued that the cotton didn’t have a warning, Frank also admitted he ignored the warnings on cigarette packages, meaning it wouldn't have altered their behavior. A Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson in 1992.

2. A Rotten Inflatable Pumpkin

Inflatable pumpkins should not be used as shelter.peterspiro/iStock via Getty Images

For years, Milwaukee resident Jon Majdoch enjoyed a brisk seasonal business operating a number of temporary Halloween shops named Halloween Express. The “shops” were actually housed underneath a giant, 100-foot diameter inflatable pumpkin. Though high winds had once blown one along a freeway, there were no major issues. In 2017, however, Majdoch custom ordered a smaller inflatable pumpkin so that he could set up a smaller store in the parking lot of a home goods store. The item came from Larger Than Life Inflatables and another company, House of Bounce, assembled it. One day, it rained so hard that water pooled on top of the pumpkin and prompted it to collapse. No one was injured, but Majdoch’s inventory was ruined. His insurance company, Hastings Mutual, paid out a six-figure policy and sued both Larger Than Life Inflatables and House of Bounce alleging manufacturing defects. The litigation is ongoing.

3. The Eyes Have It

Cosmetic contact lenses are illegal to sell without a prescription.sdominick/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re considering wearing cosmetic contact lenses for Halloween, you might want to rethink that decision. A number of retailers have faced lawsuits from state attorney generals and consumers owing to eye damage caused by the non-prescription lenses. In 2016, Missouri attorney general Chris Koster filed a lawsuit against Gotcha Costume Rental for selling the lenses without a prescription, a violation of both state and federal laws. (Gotcha Costume Rental owner Aaro Froese agreed to comply with the law and only sell contacts to customers with prescriptions.) The lenses, which may not fit properly, can scratch the cornea and cause infection or even blindness. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) routinely offers a consumer warning that contacts are medical devices and should never be worn unless prescribed by an eye care professional.

4. Banana Appeal

The banana costume has been the subject of multiple lawsuits.sdominick/iStock via Getty Images

With dozens of costume makers all over the world making every kind of costume imaginable, it’s easy to find similar products on store racks. But in the case of the banana costume, it turns out they may still be subject to copyright law. In 2017, costume manufacturer Rasta Imposta sued a number of companies, including Kmart and Kangaroo Manufacturing, for selling a banana costume they felt was infringing on their own. Citing things like the color and shape of the costume, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia agreed, affirming in 2019 that Rasta Imposta’s banana was distinctive. In its ruling, the court wrote that the company was “entitled to the veritable fruits of its intellectual labor.”

5. Fright Night

You can sue a haunted house for scaring you, but you probably won't have a very convincing argument.darkbird77/iStock via Getty Images

Thanks to liability waivers, it's notoriously difficult to sue haunted houses for delivering what they promise: a good scare. In 2011, Scott Griffin and friends went to The Haunted Trail, a haunted attraction in San Diego, California. When Griffin reached the exit, he thought it was over. Instead, a man wielding a chainsaw moved toward him aggressively, catching Griffin by surprise and prompting him to run away—then fall and injure his wrist. Griffin sued the operators but couldn’t find any satisfaction. A trial court ruled in favor of the defendant, with the 4th District Court of Appeal affirming the ruling in 2015. It was, the judges determined, a case of someone paying money to experience “extreme fright” and receiving “exactly what he paid for.”

6. Spider Man

It's not acceptable to open fire on fake spiders in an office setting.abzee/iStock via Getty Images

While this Halloween tale didn’t result in a lawsuit, it did affect a few attorneys in West Virginia. In 2015, Logan County assistant prosecutor Chris White reacted (some might say overreacted) to a small army of fake spiders that had been strung up for Halloween by pulling a gun and insisting that he was going to begin shooting the replicas. Logan County prosecuting attorney John Bennett was forced to suspend White over the incident, explaining that White really hates spiders and that the gun wasn’t actually loaded. The spider decorations were eventually removed.