The Virginia Zoological Park is a mid-sized zoo located in Norfolk, Virginia. At just over 100 years of age, it is also one of the older zoos in the country. The City of Norfolk purchased 65 acres of land with the intent of creating a public park. In 1899, the city officially named the land Lafayette Park, and a year later, the park began acquiring animals to put on exhibit. By 1901, the Lafayette Park zoo had acquired over 200 animals including mammals, reptiles and birds.
The zoo continued to make improvements. In 1910, the zoo consisted of numerous exhibits separated by paved roads so that visitors could drive through the park and view monkeys, ducks, sea lions and even a bear in their outdoor cages and exhibits. The next upgrade to the Lafayette Park zoo didn't come until 1948, when the city opened a petting zoo called the Mother Goose Barnyard, allowing city children to meet farm animals like pigs, ducks and turkeys. A few years later, in 1954, the zoo built a new stone pool for the sea lions to enjoy, and in 1969, the zoo embarked on its most ambitious construction project since its early years - the construction of a Mammal House which would house African elephants, a rhinoceros and a tapir. Finally, after 75 years, the city fenced off the animal area from the city park, creating a separate facility which was named Lafayette Zoological Park.
For the next several years, the city worked on removing the older exhibits and making improvements to the zoo. After the Friends of the Zoo was established to help advise and manage the Lafayette Zoological Park, the zoo was renamed the Virginia Zoological Park at Norfolk, which is more commonly known as the Virginia Zoo. The Virginia Zoo received its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 1989 and has maintained that AZA accreditation since. Also in 1989, the Friends of the Zoo changed its name to the Virginia Zoological Society and took on the new responsibility of raising money and community awareness for the Virginia Zoo.
Beginning in 1992, the City of Norfolk and the Virginia Zoological Society embarked upon an ambitious master plan to rebuild and refurbish the Virginia Zoo. The master plan included a new zoo geographic layout with five continental exhibits and a new Education Complex and Visitor Center.
In 1992, the city and the zoo shared a heartwarming moment when the zoo temporarily took over the care of a pair of Siberian tiger cubs. The community fell in love with them, and while the zoo was busy building and raising funds for an African exhibit, the community came together and raised funds for the first new major exhibit at the Virginia Zoo in nearly thirty years.
Today, the zoo is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. In addition to the animals housed in five zoo geographic exhibits, visitors can ride the Zoo Train, play on the kids' playground and enjoy the beautiful landscaping of the Horticultural Gardens.
The Virginia Zoological Park is open year round except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Day. Hours of operation are 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission is $7.00 for adults; $5.00 for children, with discounts available for groups, zoo members, seniors and special events. For up-to-date information on zoo schedules and admissions, contact the Virginia Zoo at 757-441-2374.
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