Gladys Porter Zoo is located on Ringgold Street, Brownsville, Texas. The zoo is dedicated to preserving nature by educating visitors, conservation programs and research. The park was opened in September 1971 after being planned, built, stocked and equipped by the Earl C. Sams Foundation.
The park is visited by over 380,000 people each year. The park is a large 31 acres of animal enclosures and exhibits, animal diet kitchens, gift shop, education and administration building and a breeding area that is off display. The zoo is owned by the City of Brownsville and operated by a Board of Directors from the Valley Zoological Society. The zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Many events and exhibits are held at the zoo throughout the year. These include the Wild Tales day that is held in November each year where visitors can meet ambassadors of the zoo, listen to stories, view crafts and have their faces painted. The event is free upon paying admission to the zoo.
A new exhibition at the zoo is the Butterflies, Bugs and Blooms exhibit. This exhibit is a large greenhouse with butterflies, bugs and flora in a free flight. This exhibit is seasonal due to the flora but when out of season the greenhouse is used as an educational complex.
A large part of the zoo is its involvement is conservation in various projects. These include helping to preserve endangered species such as Western lowland gorillas and Philippine Crocodiles. The park participates in the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Species Survival Plan program which helps the survival of selected wildlife species.
The zoo is divided into four zoogeographic areas; Asia, Africa, Tropical America and Indo-Australian. Other areas of the park include an Aquatic wing, Macaw Canyon, Bear Grottos, Komodo dragon exhibit and Free Flight Aviary. There is a Small World feature of the zoo that allows children the opportunity to touch and interact with domestic animals. These include baby animals and miniature species such as dwarf goats and mules.
Tropical America has animals such as Macaw's, Galapagos Tortoises, flamingos and Spider Monkeys. In Indo-Australia the animals include tree kangaroos, kookaburras, Philippine and saltwater crocodiles and many creatures native to Australia. Asia has a great variety of habitats on their continent and their animals include Bactrian camels and pileated gibbons. Africa's animals are zebras, lions, gorillas, rhinos and rare animals such as greater kudu and bongo.
The botanical gardens are full of plants from all over the world including the most popular flowering vines, the bougainvillea.
A summer safari program is held fro children aged over four that includes zoo tours, games and up close moments with animals. The zoo also hosts a Starlight Safari Sleepover for children aged over seven. Children will participate in indoor camping and a flashlight tour of the zoo.
The zoo hosts a summer teen volunteer which is an eight week program for students entering 8th to 12th grade. This is a competitive program with only 30 students selected each year after a rigorous application process.
School groups are welcomed at the zoo with special discounted rates for school groups. Classes based on zoo experiences are held at the zoo and include topics such as Let's Go Ape for 1st and 2nd grades, Classy Critter for 5th and 6th grades and Junior Zookeepers for grades 5 to 12.