The Topeka Zoological Gardens, better known as the Topeka Zoo, is a medium-sized municipal zoo located within Gage Park in Topeka. The 80 acre park is also home to a Rose Garden and a small-gauge railway.
The Topeka Zoo is built on land that was deeded to the city by the Gage family in 1899. The original purpose of the land grant was to provide a place for the citizens of Topeka and their friends to enjoy activities to promote health, comfort and recreation. The first zoo facilities were built in the Northeast corner of Gage Park in 1933. While the Topeka Zoo added animals and exhibits throughout the 1940s and the 1950s, it wasn't until 1960 that the City of Topeka hired its first permanent Zoo Director.
That was the same year that a group of citizens formed the non-profit Friends of the Topeka Zoo, whose aim was to promote capital improvements at the zoo and support educational opportunities for all citizens of Topeka.
In 1966, the Topeka Zoo opened its first truly major project, the Large Mammal House, as a home and exhibit for great apes, giraffe, elephants and hippos. The Large Mammal House still exists, though it has changed considerably over the decades. Today, it is called the Animals and Man building, and is home to the Africa elephants, Asian elephants, hippos, giraffes, colobus, lemurs, storks, cranes, and a number of other smaller animals. The Animals and Man exhibit includes a shade area and pool for the elephants, as well as a 28,000 gallon outdoor pool for the hippos.
One of the most popular exhibits at the Topeka Zoo is the Tropical Rain Forest, a dome with a 100-foot diameter that is home to numerous mammals, reptiles and birds in a biome designed for their comfort. Nearby, the Jungle Cats exhibit offers a similar environment for the Zoo's leopards and Sumatran tigers, allowing them room to roam, climb and relax. The Topeka Zoo is also home to a family pride of lions living in the appropriately named Lion's Pride exhibit.
In addition to the cats, visitors to the Topeka Zoo can visit zebras on the African Savannah, a quartet of bears in the Black Bear woods and Bornean Orangutans at the Discovering Apes exhibit. For the youngest visitors, there is the Security Benefit Children's Zoo, where children can meet and interact with common farm animals like sheep, goats, cows and a pig.
The Zoo is small enough that a family can see all the exhibits in an hour, but it's also easily possible to spend much more time visiting each of the exhibits and observing the animals. The Zoo provides educational opportunities through EdZoocation activities, and offers a $1 per person admission for all school groups visiting the zoo.
The Topeka Zoo is open year round from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission prices are nominal, with discounts available for groups and based on age. For more information about hours and admission at the Topeka Zoo, contact the zoo at 785-368-9180.