Day Trips: Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownsville

Zoological and botanical park is more than just a zoo

Photos by Gerald E. McLeod

The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville turns a tropical garden into an out-of-the-ordinary animal park.

The first thing you notice upon entering the grounds is how lush the park looks. The zoo's paths wind deep into the 31 acres of woodlands.

The zoo opened in 1971 as a gift to the city from the Earl C. Sams Foundation and Sams' daughter, Gladys Porter. From the beginning, the zoo has been on the forefront of modern zoological park innovations, including award-winning naturalistic designs for exhibiting animals.

In the 1960s, Porter became a concerned conservationist, and from the start she wanted the zoo to do more than display animals. With a sizable endowment and strong local support, the zoo has been an active participant in the species survival plan of 10 threatened or endangered animals.

One of the zoo's greatest successes has been the births of several Western lowland gorillas. It was the first zoo to breed Jentink's duiker, a deerlike animal native to Liberia. Rare in the wild, the Philippine crocodiles at the zoo have produced offspring that have been released into their native habitat.

Of the 377 species of animals in the zoo, at least 47 are on the endangered species list, and nine are rare even in zoos. The zoo has also taken the lead on efforts to protect the Kemp's ridley sea turtles on Texas and Mexico beaches.

Gladys Porter Zoo is at 500 E. Ringgold St. in Brownsville, near downtown and the museum district. The zoo opens every day of the year at 9am, with extended hours in the summer.

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Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownsville, Earl C. Sams, endangered species, gorillas, Jentink's duiker, Philippine crocodile, Kemp ridley sea turtles

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