John Ball Zoological Garden is an urban park located on the west side of the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. The John Ball Zoo is situated on the ravines and bluffs along the west edge of the park.
The zoo houses a variety of animals from around the world and is a significant regional attraction. With the Zoo School and Wildlife Conservation Fund the zoo gives something back to the community and world as a whole.
The original 40 acres of the park was donated to the city by noted pioneer and explorer John Ball upon his death in 1884. Shortly after, another would be added and this marked the beginning of additional amenities, including ponds, a theater, a band shell, playgrounds, ballfields, trails and the zoo. In 1891 a debate happen if city money should be used to purchase more animals to add to the existing wounded and orphaned animals at the park.
During the Great Depression, the Zoo fell on hard times. Most of the collection was given away to other zoos. The buffalo and deer were butchered to help feed the poor. Only a few aging animals remained.
During 1949, Katherine Whinery approached the mayor of Grand Rapids about resurrecting the zoo by forming a Zoo Society. A deal was formed that if a zoo society could be formed, the city would hire a Zoo Director to run the zoo. Fred Meyer was hired as the first director of the zoo. Also the monkey island exhibit was built during that year. During the 50-60s John Ball Zoo was built in the hills of the park.
The John Ball Park and Zoo were operated by the City of Grand Rapids until 1989, when the park, known as a regional asset because of the zoo, was sold to Kent County. Kent County continues to operate and maintain the park and zoo.
During the 1990s the zoo expanded with the building of Living Shores Aquarium and new cafe eating area outside of it. Also done at the same time was a new Bald Eagle Aviary. The Mokomboso Valley Chimpanzee Exhibit opened in 2001.
From 2000-2003 controversy arose over idea of moving the zoo further in to the flatlands of the park for an Elephant exhibit. It pitted the Zoo/Zoo Society against the neighbors of the park. The neighbors tried to get city of Grand Rapids to designate the whole Zoo and Park as an historical site as one way to stop the further development of the zoo. In order to stop the arguing Fred Meijer offered to donate land and money if the Zoo would move.
In 2004, a ballot was put forward to voters in Kent County to relocate the John Ball Zoological Gardens; the referendum was defeated, and the zoo will remain at its current location for the foreseeable future.
In 2005, a new 75 - 100 million dollar master plan for the zoo was made involving all of the zoo and park. Besides the existing Camels, African Veldt, Chimps, Petting Zoo, and Animal Hospital exhibits, it reworks the whole zoo. The new plan for the zoo features a system of streams named "Grand Rivers of the World" that would connect the zoo to the park surrounding the zoo.
On April 27, 2007 the zoo broke ground on the first phase of the new master plan, starting construction of an 4.1 million dollar 1/3 acre "BISSELL Lions of Lake Manyara" exhibit. The zoo has not had a lion since the last lion "Gilda" died of old age in 2005. The exhibit will be built for 6 lions, but only 3 lions will be placed in the exhibit.
|237 total species||1183 total animals|
The zoo added to it animal collection in 2004 a Komodo Dragon named Precious. He is long, is a fierce carnivore with razor sharp teeth and killer saliva. Precious is on exhibit outside the Treasure of the Tropics building during summer, and inside during the fall, winter, and spring.