People who visit or take their families to Onondaga County’s Rosamond Gifford Zoo can make a day of it. The might not have been the case when it first opened 100 years ago. It’s grown a bit, from what Joanie Mahoney calls modest beginnings.
“A couple of bears and a few waterfowl, and it was four acres. To put that into perspective for you who are here to see the animals at the zoo, we’re now on 43 acres with 700 animals, so there has been a lot that has happened in the last 100 years.”
At a centennial rededication event Tuesday, Mahoney even credited the zoo for bringing people into the community. Zoo Director Ted Fox is responsible for overseeing the expanded space and all those animals. But reflecting on the centennial, He’s thinking more about a different kind of animal – the ones that come through the turnstiles.
“100 years really means a lot to us because it demonstrates the support of this community. We’re constantly adding new exhibits, another thing that some zoos just haven’t been able to do, as the money just isn’t coming in from the community to create those experiences. We’re adding something every year, sometimes multiple things in a year. We have a great new strategic and master plan moving us forward in the next 20 years.”
Fox hears from visitors that they like recent additions of the primate park, the elephant area and the penguin exhibit. But people also mention the grounds are much nicer, more open and accessible. Fox repeatedly mentions trying to create the best experience for visitors. The mark the hundredth anniversary, there’s a raffle from now through August where a group can win a behind-the-scenes day in the elephant, tiger or penguin exhibit. Also Monday – the actual opening date back in 1914 – admission will be a dollar.
Fox says zoos have become important research centers, helping in conservation efforts for habitat and for endangered species, as well as important breeding facilities for some animals. He estimates the zoo is attracting about 350,000 to 370,000 visitors a year. He'd like to see that slowly grow, while keeping the experience not-too-crowded for families and other visitors.