The 80-acre Denver Zoo is located in City Park and draws 1.6 million visitors a year to exhibits featuring 3,500 animals representing more than 650 species, including such exotic animals as leopards, king cobras, rhinos, elephants, zebras and vampire bats.
Highlights include lions, hyenas and other African predators, endangered western lowland gorillas and Komodo dragons.
The zoo got its start in 1896 when an orphaned black bear cub, named Billy Bryan after the orator William Jennings Bryan, was given to Mayor Thomas McMurry. He gave the bear to City Park manager Alexander J. Graham, who founded the zoo.
In 1906, Mayor Robert Speer decided to do away with the cages that held the animals in favor of natural enclosures, a pioneering concept. Landscape architect Saco R. DeBoer designed the Bear Mountain exhibit, which opened in 1918, using concrete walls and hidden moats, plus native plants and an artificial stream.
More recently a number of major exhibit areas have been added, including Toyota Elephant Passage, Predator Ridge, Tropical Discovery, Primate Panorama and Northern Shores. The zoo is also noted for its work in animal conservation. The Gates Wildlife Conservation Education Center houses the Conservation Biology Department and hosts education programs for zoo visitors.