Pelicans play in the water at the Flight Cage at Audubon Zoo in a historical photo.Birth of a Zoo

The Audubon Commission was established by State Act in 1914 to maintain and develop Audubon Park. A flight cage was added to the park in 1916, and its popularity launched the community’s call for a full-scale zoo. Community leaders united as the New Orleans Zoological Society, and (in a tradition carried on today) private donations soon funded a monkey cage, a mammal cage and a deer paddock. The first elephant, purchased by Louisiana schoolchildren, arrived in 1924. An aquarium and a colonnaded sea lion pool fueled the momentum, and by 1929, the collection boasted hundreds of animals.

When the Depression of the 1930s shut down private donations, the city’s hope for a zoo was kept alive by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This federal agency funded construction of new zoo buildings, and in 1938, a $50,000 bequest from local benefactor Valentine Merz enabled the opening of the Merz Memorial Zoo.