Handsomely rebuilt during the late 1980s, the 5.5-acre Central Park Zoo is home to 450 animals representing some 100 species. A colonnade of columns, topped by a pitched glass roof, runs through the Temperate Territory, one of three major exhibits here defined by climatic zone and the only one fully exposed to the elements.
Part of the Temperate Territory is the central sea lion pool. Feedings are popular and worth the wait (times are posted). To the west of the colonnade are landscaped paths that enclose a pool containing the island home of a clan of Japanese snow monkeys. Take the paths farther west to reach the Asian red pandas, North American river otters, mandarin ducks and red swans.
The steamy Tropic Zone is a sky-lit enclosure containing dense vegetation, a roaring waterfall, frisky primates and tropical birds flying freely about an open aviary. Colobus monkeys occupy a forest-canopy habitat. A school of red-bellied piranha wait quietly in calm water—except of course at feeding time. Bats, golden-headed tamarins, geckos and Chinese water dragons are all on view while caiman repose on a riverbank stream and countless leaf-cutter ants work away busily.
The Polar Circle features above- and below-water views of the polar bear enclosure. Inside are chinstrap and gentoo penguins, as well as tufted puffins, in large breeding groups. Harbor seals and Arctic foxes occupy an adjacent habitat. Just north of the center is the Tisch Children's Zoo, which is a must for kids but a delight for adults, too. A compact nature trail features a barnyard full of sheep and alpacas, a meandering duck pond, and an area where puppet shows take place.
The zoo opened in 1865. Interestingly, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux did not want it, but park commissioners were so overwhelmed with gifts of animals that they created a menagerie that lasted until 1934, when the current zoo was built. In 1980 the Wildlife Conservation Society agreed to raze the old zoo and build a new one. It spent $40 million replacing the old barred enclosures with naturalistic habitats. The society also operates the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, the Prospect Park Zoo and the Queens Zoo.
A variety of workshops are offered for family members of all ages. There are weekday workshops for pre-school children and their caregivers, weekend children's and family workshops, and summer multi-day programs. Through songs, games, crafts and observation, everyone can learn about animals. Discover which ones help plants grow, how certain ones beat the heat and the orchestra of sounds they create. For the ultimate zoo experience, child/parent pairs can sign up for a Snooze at the Zoo Sleepover. The experience includes games, crafts and an after-hours tropical trek. Snacks and a healthy breakfast are included. Call for a current brochure of workshops and events.
There are a variety of workshops and guided tours available for schoolchildren in PreK through grade 6. Contact the registrar at (212) 439-6583 for a brochure and registration form.