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ThroughZooEyes: Indy's Zoo History

Updated: Feb 6, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - Last Sunday, on a gloomy, rainy afternoon, I looked into the eyes of an Amur Tiger, a lot ran through my mind in that moment.

How did we get here?

What all had to happen for me to be looking directly into the eyes of an Amur Tiger, right here in Indianapolis?


The Indianapolis Zoo first opened in 1964 as the Washington Park Children's Zoo, and it wasn't located in White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis. In fact, White River State Park hadn't even been developed yet. Washington Park Children's Zoo was on the northeast side of Indy, E. 30th Street to be exact. - The Washington Park Children’s Zoo had exhibits with an Asian elephant, penguins, camels, tortoises, buffalos and more! Visitors especially loved the Dutch windmill at the entrance as well as giant replicas of a giraffe and a blue whale, which were icons of the old Zoo.

The Zoo ended up outgrowing the Washington Park location, and was now in search of a new home. During this time, plans for White River State Park are being developed, and although a lot of interesting ideas came and went, the Indianapolis Zoo always fit into the design for the Park. Below is one of the original concepts/designs for White River State Park.

The development of the Park meant that Washington Street had to be re-routed. Instead of continuing to run right through the Park and the Zoo, the street would now whip around the outer boundaries of the area. Washington Street Bridge has evolved quite a bit over time, once part of the Historic National Road, the is bridge is now decorated with beautiful public art sculptures.

There were multiple Washington Park's in Indianapolis. The former location of the Indy Zoo is known as Washington Park and the current location was also known as Washington Park. However, the Washington Park that was located downtown was built was for baseball.

A variety of Indianapolis pro baseball teams called the park home, including the Indianapolis Indians. The Indians shared the park with the Indianapolis ABC's of the Negro National League.

The Indianapolis ABCs were a Negro league baseball team that played both as an independent club and as a charter member of the first Negro National League (NNL). They claimed the western championship of black baseball in 1915 and 1916, and finished second in the 1922 NNL. Among their best players were Baseball Hall of Fame members Oscar Charleston, Biz Mackey, and Ben Taylor.

I love that first picture. The word 'Indianapolis' crawling across the front of the jersey gives me a sense of pride. I'm proud to be from here. I used to remember looking at my white Indiana State jersey before games on the road and thinking, "INDIANA STATE, how blessed am I that I get to put on this jersey."

Okay now back to the Zoo, the Zoo was the first attraction to move into White River State Park when it re-opened in 1988. Now the Park has plenty of world-class attractions that call the area home: The IMAX Theater, The Indiana State Museum, The Eiteljorg Museum, Victory Field, The NCAA Hall of Champions, and the Indianapolis Zoo.

In 1996, the Indianapolis Zoo became the first institution to be triple accredited as a zoo, aquarium and botanical garden. I've been going to the Indy Zoo for my entire life and I've always felt a connection to the zoo and it's animals.

Our Zoo is truly committed to conservation on all levels, this is what makes it so easy to support the Indianapolis Zoological Society. To take a look at all of the conservation efforts being made by the Zoo you can visit this link: ZOO CONSERVATION.


The Zoo has made a commitment to enhancing the lives of every single living creature on this earth, that includes you, that includes me, and that includes the Amur Tiger. The work that the team at the Indy Zoo does with their animals contributes directly to the safety and protection of these same animals that live in the wild.

The Earth has provided us with incredible creatures that are capable of incredible things, we must appreciate them, as they appreciate us.

No two tigers on Earth have the same stripe patterns, just as no two humans have the same finger prints. As the Indianapolis Zoo works to gain a better understanding of the Amur Tiger, I hope that we as humans can begin to gain a better understanding and appreciation of each other.

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