Central Park Zoo

While New York can be renowned for its wild life, it is less so for its wildlife.

Yet Central Park is world-famous for offering denizens a lush respite from their luxury Upper East Side apartments. And at 840 acres, its sheer size and scope means that Central Park has a little something for everyone to enjoy, with abundant flora and fauna.

But nowhere is the latter more apparent than the Central Park Zoo. Here are ten facts about the Zoo–one of the world’s best:

1. The Zoo started life in the 1860s as a menagerie—zoos’ less educational and less humane predecessors. This was merely typical of a time when exotic animals were a commodity. In 1934, the Zoo was expanded to more comfortably house the animals.

2. Today’s modern Central Park Zoo has a focus on conservation, and actively works to protect endangered species. In keeping with this, there are breeding programs in place for a variety of rare creatures, including red pandas (of which there are only 10,000 left in the wild) and Tamarin monkeys, distinctive for their facial hair, which resembles large white moustaches.

3. Famous New Yorker Paul Simon has been very vocal about his affection for Central Park Zoo throughout his career. His duo, Simon & Garfunkel, released a song about the zoo in 1967, titled “At The Zoo” and Simon went on to release a picture book for children in 1991 based on the song.

4. Today, the Central Park Zoo is a 6.5-acre site, with 130 species in three clear exhibit sections that are separated by the weather conditions most suited to the animals housed within them: tropic, temperate and polar.

5. The sea lion pool was one of the first main attractions in the Zoo and, from 1934, acted as the central point within a quadrangle of other zoo buildings. It was famous because its architect, Charles Schmieder, designed it with the natural habits of the sea lions in mind—something unusual at the time. Today, the thrice-daily feedings are a major tourist attraction.

6. The petting zoo area was first established in 1961, as part of the Children’s Zoo. It was renovated again in 1997, thanks to a grant from Laurence A. Tisch who donated $4.5 million to the project. Today, at the Tisch Children’s Zoo, little ones can feed goats, sheep, alpacas, pigs and many more cute furry friends.

7. Central Park Zoo was officially founded in 1864 and was the first publicly owned zoo in New York City, and only the second in the entire country — after the Philadelphia Zoo, which was established five years prior.

8. The Central Park Zoo has had a rash of recent publicity after being a major feature of Dreamworks’ animated Madagascar movies, as well as 2011’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins, based on the 1938 book of the same name.

9. In 1988, the zoo re-opened after major renovations that took five years, to update animal enclosures and provide zoo residents with environments that more closely resembled the wild. Old-fashioned cages have been a relic of the past ever since.

10. The Zoo strives to act as an educational body, as well as a fun day out. Classes are available for children interested in finding out more about wildlife and there are 4-D movie screenings (3-D movies with wind, snow and rain effects) to make learning fun, daily.