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In About the Zoo

Zoo History

A Rich History Since 1900 (or 1901, depending on who you ask)…

Lafayette Park began its acquisition of animals in 1900, but did not officially become the Lafayette Zoological Park until 1901 when deemed a city park by the City of Norfolk.

Today, the Virginia Zoo spans 53 acres adjacent to Lafayette Park and is bordered by the Lafayette River. Zoo “residents” from around the world include more than 400 animals representing more than 100 different species. The Lafayette Zoological Park was accredited in 1974 and continues to adhere to the high standards set by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. In 1985, the park became the Virginia Zoological Park and is now called the Virginia Zoo. Here is a timeline of some of the significant milestones of the Virginia Zoo’s journey to become a world-class zooligical institution:

1892
City of Norfolk purchases 65 acres of land that is currently occupied by Lafayette Park and the Virginia Zoo.

1899
City officially designates the city’s park as Lafayette Park.

1900
Park begins acquiring zoological specimens on exhibit.

1901
Animal collection exceeds 200 animals including mammals, birds and reptiles.

1910
Animals, including monkeys, ducks, sea lions and a bear are housed in outdoor exhibits separated by paved roads – which allows visitors to drive through the park.

1948
Mother Goose Barnyard opens with pigs, ducks and turkeys.

1954
New stone dwelling area for sea lions opens.

1969
Construction of Mammal House begins – housing African Elephants, Rhinoceros and Tapir.

1974
Animal area is fenced off from the city park and named Lafayette Zoological Park.

1979
The Friends of the Zoo is established as a non-stock corporation for the purposes of acting as an advisory supportive society in the development of Lafayette Zoological Park.

1985
Lafayette Zoological Park is renamed the Virginia Zoological Park at Norfolk (commonly, Virginia Zoo).

1987
Virginia Zoological Park achieves accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).

1989
Friends of the Zoo officially changes their name to Virginia Zoological Society and operates as the non-profit official support organization for the Virginia Zoological Park with the responsibility of generating community and financial support.

1992
Two Siberian tiger cubs are temporarily housed at the Zoo after being recovered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from an illegal trader.

1995
Community – including Hampton Roads’ Exxon dealers – connects with the tiger cubs and responds by raising enough money for the first major new exhibit since 1969.

1999
Early Africa exhibits, including African Village, open during the 100th anniversary of Virginia Zoo and Lafayette Park.

2002
Africa – Okavango Delta exhibit opens, featuring large habitats with free-roaming animals including zebras, giraffes, lions, elephants, rhinos, meerkats and several smaller mammals, birds and reptiles. Entry Complex also opens, housing ticket plaza, gift shop, membership office, education classroom and staff offices.

2004
Prairie dog habitat opens.

2007
New exhibits open including love birds and red panda. Lion cubs born on exhibit in Africa, marking first large carnivore birth at the Zoo in 35 years.

2008
Zoo Train, The Norfolk Southern Express, opens. AZA accreditation is renewed and lion exhibit was acclaimed as “one of the best in the country.”

2009
Kangaroo exhibit — funded through train ticket sales — opens.

2010
Life size African elephant sculpture is installed in entry plaza as part of City of Norfolk’s Public Arts Program.

2011
Asia – Trail of the Tiger exhibit opens, nearly doubling the number of large animals at the Zoo. Among new residents are Malayan tigers, siamangs, Malayan tapirs, binturongs, and a colorful collection of birds. A raised boardwalk allows unobstructed views of many animals.

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