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A Centennial Celebration

Established in 1922, the Houston Zoo is a leading conservation and education nonprofit organization providing care to thousands of animals.

Article by Memorial Lifestyle Staff

Photography by Courtesy of Houston Zoo

Originally published in Memorial Lifestyle

One hundred years ago, in 1922, the City of Houston built a fence around a tract of land in Hermann Park to house its first animal, an American bison named Earl. The Zoo's first official animal was a part of the nationwide effort to showcase one of America's largest land mammals, which were nearly hunted to extinction at that time.

Although Earl was the first animal at the Zoo, the fence around it began to expand yearly. Now, the Houston Zoo is a sprawling 55 acres dedicated to conservation and animal protection with a legacy of saving animals in the wild. One of their first efforts was to protect the Galápagos tortoises from extinction, and in the 1970s, the Houston Zoo was the first institution in the world to successfully hatch a St. Vincent's Amazon parrot. In 1984, the Zoo spearheaded the launch of the Houston toad breeding and reintroduction program; their ongoing list of conservation efforts proves that the original intention of the Zoo's commitment to protecting animals remains steadfast into its next century. 

The Houston Zoo draws in over two million visitors each year and is home to over 6,000 permanent wildlife residents. As the second most visited Zoo in the United States, and the most significant cultural attraction in the Houston region, it is able to support 49 wildlife conservation projects in 27 countries worldwide.

"In order to connect communities with animals to inspire action to save wildlife we're completing our work transforming the very heart of the Zoo and taking our visitors around the world from the far reaches of Central America and the islands of the Galapagos to our very own Texas Wetlands," said Lee Ehmke, President and CEO of the Houston Zoo. "What all began with a bison named Earl will now be a leader in the global movement to save wildlife."

As part of the Zoo's efforts to highlight wildlife and ecosystems worldwide through interactive exhibits and animal encounters, their next efforts will showcase the unique animal life of the Galápagos Islands. Slated to open in 2023, the Galápagos Islands exhibit spotlights sea lions, giant tortoises, sharks, and Humboldt penguins exemplifying the delicate balance of ecosystems and the need to protect its future. 

To celebrate its centennial year, the Zoo will host "Centennial Saturdays" on the first Saturday of each month through the rest of the year. Guests can look forward to family-friendly interactive activities relating to the Zoo's first 100 years. The celebration will continue throughout the summer with the launch of a mural series by some of Houston's most well-known artists. The murals are in the inner loop neighborhoods of Houston Heights, Third Ward, Fifth Ward, Downtown and EaDo. Each mural was created by local artists GONZO247, Jessica Rice, Usagi Wasabi, Emily Ding and Mathieu Jean Baptiste, showcasing the Zoo's global conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands, South America's Pantanal, Africa, Asia and the Texas Wetlands.


“Over the past 100 years, our Zoo has seen two world wars, a depression, multiple hurricanes and a pandemic, yet we persevered and have thrived. Today, we’re connecting communities with animals to inspire action to save wildlife,” Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo president and CEO, 

  • The Zoo's first animal in 1922 an American Bison named, Earl.