The Art of the Zoo

If you’re an avid Zoo fan, then you know that the Zoo is home to hundreds of animals and nestled on 53 beautifully landscaped acres. A typical Zoo visitor spends their time admiring the grounds, checking out exhibits and spotting the animals. A zoo trip isn’t complete without a stop at one of the restaurants and gift shop, and of course snapping a few photos. Many of our visitors share their experiences via social media using the #VirginiaZoo, and we enjoy seeing each and every face to set foot (or wheel!) onto grounds. We’ve seen the pictures and videos and have been wondering, what is the most photographed item at the Zoo? Is it an animal like the siamangs, rhinos, crocodiles, sloth or tigers? What about a place like the event pavilion, plaza or giraffe yard overlook? These are all great guesses, but there’s something else that beats the competition…

The Zoo’s eight current statues and sculptures are the most photographed at the Zoo! We’ve seen tiny tots to long-lived individuals cozying up to one of our statues, which make the perfect photo-op and everlasting memento of your visit to the Zoo.

All Things Within All Things

Perhaps the most photographed statue at the Zoo, this life-sized elephant is made completely of more than 6,000 aluminum butterflies and is also holding a butterfly with wings shaped like elephants. The elephant was created by artist Matthew Gray Palmer and commissioned by the City of Norfolk to illustrate the inter-connectivity of nature’s largest mammal with the most delicate of creatures. The sculpture was installed at the Zoo’s entrance in January 2010.

Norfolk Mermaid

In 1999, the idea of mermaids throughout Norfolk was proposed by the late attorney and Norfolk-native Pete Decker and his wife. More than 130 mermaid sculptures were produced for artists to decorate and businesses and community partners to “adopt” at auction. The Virginia Zoo’s mermaid has always been painted to resemble a tiger, but was redone in 2012 by artist Sam Welty. Guests can find the mermaid near the parking lot and to the left of the Zoo’s entrance.

The Zoo’s Plaza

Upon entering the Zoo, our plaza welcomes you with three works of art. The most obvious is our Kugel Ball, a 20,000 pound solid marble sphere that rests on a thin plane of water, keeping it elevated and rotating on its pedestal. Both kids and adults are fascinated at this sculpture, which has a map of the world etched onto it, located in the very center of the plaza. Around the Kugel Ball are fountains which are used as splash pads in the summertime and create an extra ambiance at the Zoo during the warmer months when they are turned on. The entire plaza is a perfect photo taking opportunity, and most guests don’t even realize that it is a work of art in itself: the plaza is actually a compass! Be sure to find which direction is North on your next visit.


One of the newest sculptures on grounds, this 67-foot-long Rhinoceros viper doubles as a children’s play structure and arrived at the Zoo in May 2018. The snake is constructed out of reinforced fiberglass and weighs almost 9,000 pounds. He earned his name thanks to a generous donation from the Goode Family, and can be found sitting in a nice, shady area adjacent to the World of Reptiles and Friends where you can find the real snakes he is modeled after! You can read more about Snavely here.

Asia – Trail of the Tiger Statue

In 1992, two Siberian tiger cubs, Shere Khan and Shaka Khan, were recovered from the illegal pet trade and were permanently housed at the Zoo thanks to Exxon’s efforts in raising money to build the pair an exhibit, which is now the moon bear exhibit. When the sisters were both 18, they were diagnosed with cancer and died from complications of the diseases. Their memories live on with the dedication of the tiger statue and fountains at the entrance of the Asia-Trail of the Tiger, which was finished in 2011.

The Tortoise Statue

The Aldabra tortoises now have a new neighbor! Once located near the World of Reptiles, the Zoo’s famous tortoise statue now sits next to the tortoise barn, designating the area as the land of the tortoises. Guests can see our five Aldabra tortoises napping, munching on leaves, wallowing in mud or snuggling together inside during cooler weather. After visiting the tortoises, be sure to snap a photo with the tortoise statue for your new Facebook profile picture!

The Rhino Statue

Once located near the tortoise barn, the rhino statue can now be found across from the White rhino yard in Africa-Okavango Delta. This bronze statue has always been a cherished Zoo photo opportunity, and one you won’t want to miss!

Coming soon: The Giraffe

In September 2018, the Zoo requested proposals from local artists to give an old giraffe statue a facelift. Donated to the Zoo many, many years ago, this life-size 18-foot-tall giraffe statue was recently painted on grounds by artist Kimberly Ann Jones and will make its debut in early 2019. You can get an idea of what the giraffe will look like on Kimberly’s Instagram here.

Which of the statues have you taken a picture with and which ones are on your list? We want to see the memories you’ve made on your visits to the Zoo, so share them with us on social media using #VirginiaZoo!