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 700 animals representing more than 150 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 zoological institution:
City of Norfolk purchases 65 acres of land that is currently occupied by Lafayette Park and the Virginia Zoo.
City officially designates the city’s park as Lafayette Park.
Park begins acquiring zoological specimens on exhibit.
Animal collection exceeds 200 animals including mammals, birds and reptiles.
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.
Mother Goose Barnyard opens with pigs, ducks and turkeys.
New stone dwelling area for sea lions opens.
Construction of Mammal House begins – housing African Elephants, Rhinoceros and Tapir.
Animal area is fenced off from the city park and named Lafayette Zoological Park.
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.
Lafayette Zoological Park is renamed the Virginia Zoological Park at Norfolk (commonly, Virginia Zoo).
Virginia Zoological Park achieves accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).
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.
Two Siberian tiger cubs are temporarily housed at the Zoo after being recovered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from an illegal trader.
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.
Early Africa exhibits, including African Village, open during the 100th anniversary of Virginia Zoo and Lafayette Park.
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.
Prairie dog habitat opens.
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.
Zoo Train, The Norfolk Southern Express, opens. AZA accreditation is renewed and lion exhibit was acclaimed as “one of the best in the country.”
Kangaroo exhibit — funded through train ticket sales — opens.
Life size African elephant sculpture is installed in entry plaza as part of City of Norfolk’s Public Arts Program.
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.
The new state-of-the-art Veterinary Hospital and Diet Kitchen open for animal residents.
Australia Walkabout opens.
The Zoo celebrates its 115 year anniversary. The Animal Wellness Campus and Zoo Live! Stage opens. The ZooFarm gets a facelift and reopens with new residents. Two critically endangered male Malayan tiger cubs are born and hand-reared by vet staff.
Two genetically important female White rhinos arrive at the Zoo from Singapore.
The Zoo is reaccredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The World of Reptiles and Friends opens as the Zoo also unveils the longest snake on the east coast, a 67-foot-long- Rhinoceros viper sculpture named Snavely by the Goode Family. Judy the giraffe sculpture gets a flowery facelift from artist Kimberly Ann Jones and now permanently towers over visitors at the Zoo’s entrance.
Run Wild! Nature Discovery Zone, aone-acre natural playground opens. Features include a bamboo maze, stump jump, willow tunnel, dig boxes, balance beams and a Conservation Cabin. The Zoo begins the Strategic Plan process.
Trey the sloth is the first two-toed sloth born in the Zoo’s history. In March, the Zoo is forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remaining closed until July. The Zoo launches an Emergency Operations Fund to help aid the financial impact caused by the closure.
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