From Ohio History Central
Cincinnati Zoological Gardens Souvenir Book
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden resulted from an infestation of caterpillars. In 1872, caterpillars descended upon Cincinnati, supposedly devouring all vegetation within the city. Andrew Erkenbrecher and several other prominent residents created the Society of the Acclimatization of Birds. This organization purchased approximately one thousand birds from Europe, shipped them to Cincinnati, and housed the birds in a building. In 1873, members of the society released the birds, hoping that the animals would devour the caterpillar population. That same year, the Society of the Acclimatization of Birds changed its name to the Zoological Society of Cincinnati.
The Zoological Society of Cincinnati found support from some of the wealthiest men in the city. With the support of these men, the organization established a zoo, consisting of just over sixty-six acres in Blakely Woods. The Zoological Society did not own the land; rather the organization received a ninety-nine year lease for the property. On September 18, 1875, the Cincinnati Zoological Garden (now known as the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden) opened its doors. The zoo’s collection was very small, originally consisting of just eight monkeys, two grizzly bears, three deer, six raccoons, two elk, a buffalo, a hyena, a tiger, an alligator, a circus elephant, and over four hundred birds, including a talking crow. The zoo grew very slowly during the late 1800s and faced extreme financial difficulties. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden eventually purchased the sixty-six acres of land, further straining the organization’s budget. In 1898, Cincinnati residents donated enough money to the zoo to save it from bankruptcy.
Over the next several years, the zoo operated as a business known as the Cincinnati Zoological Company. To increase the number of visitors, the zoo invited one hundred Sioux Native Americans to establish a village at the site in 1896. The Sioux lived at the zoo for three months. In 1901, the Cincinnati Traction Company bought a majority of the Zoological Company’s stock, gaining control of the zoo and its holdings. The company hoped to demonstrate its products at the zoo to attract customers. The Cincinnati Traction Company’s plans failed, and in 1915, two women, Anna Sinton Taft and Mary Emery, purchased the zoo. Upon these two women’s deaths, the city of Cincinnati bought the zoo in 1932. Since that year the Board of Park Commissioners has operated the site.
Today, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden commonly ranks among the top five zoos in the United States. During the 1980s, it had 780 different species of wildlife in its collections. It is also known as the “world’s sexiest zoo,” because more than fifty percent of the black rhinoceroses, white Bengal tigers, and lowland gorillas currently in captivity were born at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.