Kodiak bear and keeper, Bronx Zoo, December 18, 1905. © WCS

The Wildlife Conservation Society will archive and preserve over 12,000 photos from the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium.

On November 8, 1899, the Bronx Zoo opened to the public.

It was a production. The city ran special express trains to Fordham, where hundreds of people gathered at the park’s main entrance on Pelham Avenue and Southern Boulevard to hear an address from Henry Fairfield Osborn, the future president of the New York Zoological Society, known today as the Wildlife Conservation Society. Before the gates opened, he told the crowd:

What our museums are doing for art and natural science, this part and its fair botanical companion up the Bronx will do for nature, by bringing its wonders and its beauties within the reach of thousands and millions of all classes who cannot travel or explore.

In 1899, there were 843 animals in the zoo; then, it was a sum worthy of a spectacle. Even before the Zoo’s official opening, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was touting the park as an institution that would define New York’s global standing. An article from September 4, 1899 boasts:

With 261 acres the Zoological Society has been able to apportion ample space to each department, and this alone will give the Bronx Zoo an unique place among the zoos of the world...The gardens in Berlin, the largest, contain sixty acres, while the far-famed London Zoo has but thirty acres. In Bronx Park the buffalo range alone is almost as large as the latter.

Over the past century, the zoo underwent tremendous changes. Beginning in 1940, the animals were moved from cages to open enclosures, and today the zoo houses around 4,000 animals of over 650 species. This week, the Wildlife Conservation Society has released images of the zoo’s early days and inhabitants—including several species that are now extinct—that make those differences even more palpable.

Cyclone the grizzly bear, Bronx Zoo, December 1901. The zoo’s director, William T. Hornaday, called him “really a fine-spirited dignified little grizzly.” (© WCS)

With the help of a $16,674 grant from the New York State Program for the Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials, the WCS will rehouse 12,000 of the over 70,000 glass plate and film negatives in the collection that were otherwise susceptible to damage, according to a press release from the WCS.

The collection, which also comprises images from the New York Aquarium, dates from the zoo’s founding in 1899 through approximately 1930, and demonstrates, the release notes, “how animal care practices and exhibit standards, along with the zoo grounds, have evolved with time.”

Alligator eating at the Bronx Zoo, 1899. This is the first photograph in WCS’s collection. (© WCS)
Axis deer herd at the Bronx Zoo, October 1907. (© WCS)
Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, at the Bronx Zoo, February 1903. The Bronx Zoo and Smithsonian National Zoo are the only two zoos in the U.S. to ever exhibit this now-extinct species. The last known thylacine died at the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania in 1936. (© WCS)
Bison and young at the Bronx Zoo, July 1907. Just months after this photo was taken, in October 1907, the American Bison Society would ship 15 bison from the Bronx Zoo’s herd to the Wichita Game and Forest Reserve in Oklahoma.  This was the first step in a successful multi-year effort to repopulate the bison of the American West. (© WCS)
Barbary lion Sultan in the Bronx Zoo’s Lion House, April 1903. Now extinct in the wild, Barbary lions once roamed North Africa. (© WCS)
Barbary lion cubs at the Bronx Zoo, May 1903. The offspring of Barbary lions Sultan and Bedouin Maid, these cubs were the first to be born at the Bronx Zoo. (© WCS)
Black-footed ferret at the Bronx Zoo, July 1905. During the nineteenth century, black-footed ferrets numbered in the tens of thousands, but by the 1960s, their populations stood on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and disease. Since the 1980s, American zoos have been breeding the species for reintroduction in the American West. (© WCS)
Three-toed sloth at the Bronx Zoo, around 1907. (© WCS)

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