Zoo Story

Rating the best Texas zoos from both sides of the cage.

In 1909 Fort Worth purchased from a traveling carnival a lion, two bear cubs, an alligator, a coyote, a peacock, and an escalating population of rabbits. Not to be outdone, the Dallas city fathers, who boasted only some native stock like raccoons and de-scented skunks, purchased Queenie, a retired circus elephant. Houston began zoo­keeping in 1920 when the National Parks Department presented the city with one lonely bison, who was event­ually joined by a bissonnet, and some dispossessed circus stock.

What began with an animal here and there burgeoned into an enormous and eclectic menagerie for each of Texas’ large cities: San Antonio, Fort Worth, Houston, and Dallas. Collec­tions grew at random and facilities fol­lowed, although often makeshift. These are the zoos that we all grew up with: miscellaneous assortments of animals divided according to species and usually individually caged.

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