Episode Three: The Memphis Zoo
“These animals are like my children, every day that I come to the zoo I say, ‘Daddy’s home’.” - Nicholas J. Melroy, 1923 You can thank the payment of debt, which came in an unusual form, for the construction of Memphis’s wonderful zoo. Albert Carruthers, president of a local shoe business, accepted an in-kind payment for a shipment of shoes, in the form of a black bear cub named “Natch.” Mr. Carruthers gave the cub to the Memphis Turtles baseball team to use as a mascot. As the bear got older, he became less tolerant of the noisy sports fans and began snapping at children. The team retired their live mascot and returned him to Mr. Carruthers. Unable to house the bear as he got older (and BIGGER), Albert decided to chain Natch to a tree in the middle of Overton Park. Eventually, a log cabin was built for the bear and he became a popular attraction in the park. Natch in Overton Park Citizens visiting the park started “donating” wild animals to the park, beginning with a wildcat and a monkey. Eventually a fence was built around Natch. Animals, wild or not, still need food, so Natch and the other animals were being fed by a generous man, Col. Robert Galloway, one of the founding members of the park commission. The Memphis Parks Commission was formed in 1901 and headed by John Goodwin, LB McFarland, and Robert Galloway. In 1906, Galloway petitioned the parks commission for funds to help open a zoo in Overton Park (named after Memphis Founder, John Overton). After lots of effort, on April 4, 1906, the parks commission established an annual fund of $1200 to create a zoo. The first true zoo, like the ones we know today, was the Philadelphia Zoo. The charter was approved in March of 1859, but unfortunately, the Civil War broke out and it was not opened until July 1, 1874. This zoo was the first in the country to breed animals that were considered difficult to breed in captivity. In August of 1906, the Memphis Zoo Association (later known as the Memphis Zoological Society) held a fundraiser that raised $3600. That money, combined with the parks commission’s donation, allowed the zoo to be able to buy 23 cages and a row of concrete bear dens. In 1907, Galloway Hall was the first building constructed and it held most of the zoo’s animals. Galloway Hall held many animal habitats, including the reptiles until it was demolished in 1954. Besides Natch the bear and his park mates, some of the first animals the zoo held were native animals, such as foxes and snapping turtles, most of which were caught by citizens and given to the zoo. In the early days, animals would be shipped to the US directly from their country of origin. As time passed, animals were acquired from other zoos or zoos would purchase retired circus animals. Some of the first animals to arrive at the zoo, starting in 1908, were three black bears, a cinnamon bear by the name of Teddy, after President Roosevelt, six madagascar monkeys, four spider monkeys, and one java macaque monkey. Bear Pits In 1909, polar bears Ella and her mate moved to the zoo. That was also the year the elephant house was built. The first African elephant named Marguerite was acquired from Ringling Brothers circus in 1912. The following year, the first bengal Tiger, Samantha, was also purchased from Ringling Bros. Both animals were named by school children from a contest run in the local paper. Elephant House Original Big Cat House In 1914, Henry Loeb (a name that most Memphians will recognize today) held a fundraiser that helped obtain Venus and Adonis, the zoo’s first hippos. Their permanent home was not completed until 1916 but it housed all the future hippos for 100 years, until the new habitat was built in 2016. Hippos House Venus and Adonis sired 8 babies in the first 20 years they were at the zoo. Little fact I learned, Hippos are pregnant for about 8 months, but after they give birth, they will not conceive again for at least 18- 24 mon...