History of the Utica Zoo & Utica Zoological Society
The Utica Zoo has served the region for over 99 years. Located in Roscoe-Conkling Park, the zoo is part of a recreational complex made possible by the donation of land from Thomas R. Proctor in 1909. He had a dream that a park could do as much for south Utica as Central Park was doing for New York City. He hired a famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, who had designed Central Park, to plan the roads and scenic walkways in Roscoe Conkling Park. The Zoo has grown from its small beginnings in with three fallow deer in 1914, to its present collection of over 200 animals. Of the 80 acres of land set aside for the zoo’s use, 40 are presently developed.
The Zoo property is owned by the City of Utica, and until 1964, was operated by the Parks Department. In order to ensure the Utica Zoo’s continued existence, the Utica Zoological Society assumed full management of the zoo in 1964. The first professional zoo director was hired in 1966. One year later, Marlin Perkins officiated at the opening of the Children’ s Zoo. The society was chartered as an educational institution by the New York State Educational Department in 1968. In 1973, the education department was established with the appointment of a curator to carry out its programs.
The first building, completed in 1920, is currently named the Wildlife Building and houses the administrative offices, auditorium, reptile exhibits and the zoo’ s kitchen. In 1981, the Animal Care Center was added to the Wildlife Building for the quarantine and veterinary facilities. The first building made exclusively for animal use was completed in 1927 and still houses the primate collection. Other major exhibits include the Lion exhibit and the California sea lion exhibit (finished in 1986).
The Utica Zoo is a regional facility and a sparkling gem for the Mohawk Valley. The city owns the zoo property; however, the city’s financial support has ended. The zoo receives annual support from Oneida County and an annual operating grant from the Natural Heritage Trust (a state agency). The remainder of the budget is raised by the Society. Admissions fees, society membership, special events such as Wine in the Wilderness, Brewfest & Spooktacular, the gift shop, the Adopt an Animal program, animal feed sales, stroller rentals, pavilion rentals and donations complete the operating budget income. Major capital improvements are funded through specific fund drives, major grants and other contributions and sponsorships.