Big changes are coming to the Fort Worth Zoo and things are about to get wilder. This fall, the Fort Worth Zoo announced A Wilder Vision, a $100-million capital campaign that will include new exhibit space, renovated habitats, special events space, multiple dining areas, restrooms and most importantly, new ways to observe, interact with and learn about animals. A Wilder Vision will also allow the Zoo to guarantee for future generations the survival of many endangered species.
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The Fort Worth Zoo was founded in 1909 with one lion, two bear cubs, an alligator, a coyote, a peacock and a few rabbits. From these humble beginnings, the Zoo has grown into a nationally ranked facility, housing more than 7,000 native and exotic animals. From 1909 to October 1991, the Fort Worth Zoo was owned and operated by the City of Fort Worth. During the city's tenure, a long-standing tradition began of collecting money from the community to purchase animals for the Zoo. In 1939, the Zoological Society (now the Fort Worth Zoological Association) formed as a nonprofit organization to help raise additional funds to purchase even more animals.
In October 1991 – with the Zoo facing decreasing city support, demands to replace outdated animal housing and declines in attendance – the Association assumed management of the Zoo's day-to-day operations under a contract with the City of Fort Worth. Since 1991 (and up until fundraising began for this campaign), the Association has raised more than $186 million from private entities, foundations and corporations for Zoo improvements and new exhibits. In 1992, the Zoo hosted a grand reopening, unveiling two new exhibits – World of Primates and Asian Falls – and numerous improvements throughout the Zoo. Within the first year, Zoo attendance soared to approximately 1 million visitors in a fiscal year – almost double that of the previous year – and has maintained ever since. In fact, the Zoo just celebrated 25 million Zoo visitors in 25 years this year.
Since 1992, the Zoo has opened 16 major exhibits and support facilities, virtually creating a new zoo. In addition to these new exhibits, substantial improvements have been made to Zoo facilities, including handicap accessibility as defined by ADA standards, as well as improvements to restrooms, shade structures, walkways, food outlets, picnic areas, animal areas and exhibit space. This current capital campaign will ensure that the Fort Worth Zoo remains a leading educational and recreational institution in the region.
After witnessing the poaching problem and plight of several species in the wild, while also experiencing breeding and conservation successes here at home, Zoo officials began identifying the Zoo’s needs over the next 20 years and beyond. Planning for A Wilder Vision began in 2011 and developments have already begun. Divided into stages – African Savanna, Elephant Springs, Hunters of Africa & Asian Predators and Forests & Jungles – the plan encompasses not only a mission for conserving the animal kingdom, but also for educating and motivating future leaders.
The African Savanna will open to the public in the spring of 2018 and will imitate the natural ecosystem of east Africa, where diverse species roam freely together. “We are very excited to bring multiple species together to mimic life in the wild,” said Zoo Executive Director Michael Fouraker. “Although most of these species already call the Zoo home, guests will be able to come face to face with these animals and engage in ways that they’ve never been able to before.” Two main features Zoo officials are excited to share with Zoo guests will be the African Savanna’s giraffe feeding experience and underwater hippo viewing.
Other areas will be completed over the next nine years and will change the way visitors explore the Zoo and interact with the animals. Reimagined and modernized exhibits will change the physical landscape of the Zoo, allowing guests to wind through shaded trails during their visit. The Zoo will also become home to new species, like wild dogs, African leopards, clouded leopards and okapi, which the Zoo hopes will help continue to strengthen the bond between humans and animals.
A cornerstone of the Fort Worth Zoo’s mission is conservation. The Zoo is proud to coordinate or support conservation projects in more than 30 countries around the world in addition to the work done here in Fort Worth. Both at home and abroad, the Zoo dedicates staff time, resources and financial support toward education, conservation and animal care. A Wilder Vision will provide an opportunity to continue the Zoo’s extensive conservation work locally and globally. With the completion of the expanded and renovated exhibit space, the Zoo will be able to continue its breeding programs and conservation leadership in state-of-the-art facilities, which is an absolute necessity in order to keep these animals alive for future generations.
Status in the Wild
- Greater one-horned rhino status: vulnerable
- Black rhino status: critically endangered
- With less than 2,000 southern black rhinos left in the wild, black rhinos are one of the most endangered species on the planet. These rhinos and other rhino species are being poached at the rate of four per day. If this trend continues, the entire rhino species could possibly become extinct in the wild in as few as 25 to 30 years.
- Status: endangered
- An elephant is poached at the alarming rate of one every 15 minutes. These numbers mean that elephants in the wild could possibly become extinct in the next 20 to 25 years. In addition to poaching, Asian elephants also suffer due to habitat loss because of agriculture and deforestation.
- Status: vulnerable
- A 2015 study showed that the wild population of African lions has dwindled 42 percent over the last two decades. Even more alarming, the West African subpopulation is classified as critically endangered with a staggering estimated population of 404 remaining.
- Status: endangered
- Okapi populations have declined by more than 50 percent since 1995 and are expected to continue to decrease. Okapi are threatened because of the presence of illegal armed groups around key protected areas and unfortunately in some cases, these groups prevent conservation action, surveys and monitoring of this species.
- Status: critically endangered
- This critically endangered species has declined more than 80 percent over the past several decades due to loss of habitat because of logging and deforestation. Although steps have been taken to protect the forests, most orangutan populations live outside of the current protected areas.
- Status: critically endangered
- All six of the world’s tiger subspecies are endangered, some of them critically. Unfortunately, the Zoo’s Malayan tigers fall in the critically endangered category. The Malayan tiger was not identified as its own subspecies until 2004, when a genetic analysis provided evidence to differentiate it from the Indochinese tiger. Already a rare subspecies, it is estimated that only approximately 300 remain in the wild. Leading threats include habitat alteration and fragmentation, illegal trade and human-tiger conflict.