Nearly 75 years ago, on May 1, 1941, the Bronx Zoo opened its iconic African Plains Exhibit. The display set new standards for zoo habitats and was a huge success, drawing about 85,000 visitors in a single day even in its early days. In honor of the exhibit's anniversary, the Bronx Zoo recently released images of the opening.
The area—which showcases animals like zebras, elands, lions, warthogs, and several species of birds, among others—was built using money from an anonymous funder (who was later revealed to be department store owner Marshall Field). The whole thing cost about $110,000 and took around 18 months to complete, from planning to completion. Many of the featured species can still be seen there today.
Take a look at some of those pictures below, as well as an old video of some lions getting up close and personal with a CBS reporter (who, yes, is hiding in a box).
Before the '40s, zoos had different standard practices than they do today. Large animals like lions and bears were often housed in small cages with metal bars, completely ignoring how they would live in their natural habitats. When the Bronx Zoo opened their African Plains Exhibit, the organizers aimed to change the way animals were displayed. The design was created by the late Fairfield Osborn, the then-president of the New York Zoological Society (now Wildlife Conservation Society), who wanted to show visitors the importance of protecting both the wildlife and the places they called home.
The Plains exhibit was the first in the Bronx Zoo to organize the animals by geography instead of taxonomy. Predators and prey lived in a shared space, separated by hidden moats instead of iron bars. The naturalistic exhibit aimed to imitate the real plains of Africa from where the animals originated. According to a press release, the Bronx Zoo continues to use this design in their new exhibits, "focusing on the ecological relationships among animals and their natural environments."
All images © Wildlife Conservation Society