Located ten minutes away from MC’s campus and off Capitol Street, the Jackson Zoo continues to make improvements and remains optimistic in the wake of a struggle to attract guests.
What began as the private collection of animals owned by fellow firefighters grew into the zoo and park founded by Samuel Livingston. The Jackson Zoo exists as a 100-year-old community and upheld relic. Volunteers come from groups including Jackson State, AmeriCorps, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Jackson Junior League. Community support has also come from the Nissan dealership in Jackson, who donated trucks.
Remnants of the zoo’s fire station origins may be seen in the netting made from fire hoses donated from the fire house next door, which makes up part of the climbing structure within the monkey enclosure.
The Jackson Zoo has almost 100 acres, but only 30 are being used right now. The surrounding neighborhood is often thought to be the cause of the zoo’s decrease in success over the years. The Jackson Zoo itself is actually a kid-friendly establishment. They plan to rebuild the petting zoo and add another, larger playground in the future.
Recently, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums decided to withhold accreditation from the Jackson Zoo. By their estimation, the Jackson Zoo meets all of the AZA standards except for its lack of financial stability. Revocation of accreditation does not force the zoo to close; however, it does prevent the zoo from any further rights to breed animals.
Vet tech Donna Todd has worked to breed many animals including several monkey species. Debbie the spider monkey, whose whole family was taken for pet trade, is one of the grateful recipients of the zoo’s charity. Her cheerful chirp follows visitors on their way out.
As part of Go Green Jackson, the Jackson Zoo amped up its conservation efforts by starting a compost pile and recycling coke cans. In 2004, the zoo added Wilderness Mississippi, an area devoted to the active education of children and families about the habitats and native species to Mississippi. Faith Hill is one of its most prominent sponsors.
The Jackson Zoo takes in orphan animals all the time. They have been saviors to animals such as monkeys, birds, panthers, a black bear, pelicans rescued from the oil spill, and an endangered species of Amur leopards. The Jackson Zoo gets its animals from places all over the world including New York, Texas, Australia, Mexico, and Africa.
They have had incredible success with saving species through their breeding efforts. They have had particularly good luck with Diana monkey twins, a tapir, and lemur.
The Jackson Zoo has one of the few open-tree red panda exhibits in the U.S. They have two red pandas named Ruby and Pi (both females) from Southeast China that are among the many animals that the Jackson Zoo has saved. The zoo also has a Raptor Rehab program specifically for helping birds.
At one time, the Jackson Zoo helped rehabilitate the red wolf species, which had fallen to only a couple hundred in population. Elizabeth Russell, an employee and currently the only representation Mississippi College has at the zoo, said, “Within our generation we have saved an entire species that was once a part of Mississippi. We’re very fortunate to be a part of that.”
The animal clinic in the zoo has its surgical unit viewable by glass to any zoo-comer. The clinic has any equipment that a normal hospital has except an MRI machine. State veterinary students often come to the zoo to get experience.
Becky Olthof, an education specialist, said there are tons of volunteer opportunities waiting for college students there. Some will be working side by side with zoo staff, while others who are interested in a career in education will get to be involved in more behind the scenes work and eventually lead to interactions with guests through tours.
Upcoming events require about 150 volunteers to dress in costumes and engage in games with families. There are also two internships available. One revolves around animal care education, and the other is a summer camp position for people who want to work with children.
The Jackson Zoo encourages people to show their photos on its Facebook page and to express any and all criticism. They appreciate public opinion, because they believe that is the only way they will know exactly how to improve.
While the future of the Jackson Zoo remains uncertain, its valiant efforts to save species will not cease nor will the positive impact they have earned wane within the hearts of its community.
– Bethany Kuhn, Reporter