Gladys Porter Zoo is a guest-oriented zoological park and botanical garden located in Brownsville, Texas. The facility was opened to the public on September 3rd, 1971, and situated on 31-acres and home to more than 400 animals, including 47 endangered species and 250 neo-tropical and subspecies. The zoo is named after Gladys Porter, the daughter of JC Penny founder Earl C. Sams. Porter was a wildlife enthusiast and was instrumental in planning and stocking the zoo, and after opening the facility was gifted to the City of Brownsville.
The zoo was innovative for its time and has earned the reputation of being a world-class facility. The architectural concept of designing natural exhibits won the Texas Building Branch of Associated General Contractors Outstanding Construction Award in 1979. The zoo continued to grow and expand, by adding new exhibits, animals and guests amenities through the years.
The Zoo opened the doors to its first addition in April of 1973, the Herpetarium. The exhibit is devoted to preservation of reptiles and amphibians that are endangered all over the world. In May 1973, the first Zoo Ball was held to assist in raising funds to build an aviary. The function raised more than $35,000 and special guests of the ball were actor Jimmy Stewart and his wife, Gloria. Because of the success of the fundraiser, a "Safari Party'', was scheduled for September, 1973. The venue also proved to be wildly successful in raising additional funds.
During the following years, several more additions and upgrades were made to the Gladys Porter Zoo. Orangutan Island was enlarged, an Aquatic Wing was added to the Herpetarium, and concession stands were remodeled and added. A gift shop was constructed; Small World a new cathouse was constructed and renovated. Chimp Island and Bear Grottos were also added and all of the renovations were made possible from the money contributed as a result of fundraisers.
The zoos largest addition, The Australian Exhibit officially opened to the public in 1988. The opening generated the largest number of guests since the grand opening of the zoo in 1971. In 1989, construction included a free-flight aviary, known as Zack's Aerie, featuring bald and golden eagles, cascading waterfalls and rock cliffs. Because of donations from the Meadows Foundation, an educational building and classrooms were also added.
The Gladys Porter Zoo is divided into four geographical areas: Africa, Asia, Tropical America and Indo-Australia. Small World showcases an animal nursery and contact yard where children are welcome to touch and interact with domestic animals.
A stroll through the grounds of the Gladys Port Zoo can be as much a botanical learning experience as it is a zoo experience. The grounds contain several different types of flowering plants and vegetation in the botanical garden area. Among the many groupings found are a cactus garden, which showcases cactus and other succulents, including barrel cactus, aloe vera and saguaro. Some other points of interest are the flowering vines, bougainvillea, and plants such as silk floss trees, shaving brush trees, Hong Kong orchid trees and royal Poinciana.
The Gladys Porter Zoo is opened daily, 365 days a year, from 9 am until 5 pm, with extended summertime hours. All of the facilities at the zoo are handicapped accessible and stroller and wheel chair rentals are also available.