The Audubon Institute and Zoo was built on the former homeland of Native Americans. It is located in Audubon Park, a plot of land on the Mississippi River’s edge in Uptown, New Orleans. Although known best for its charming array of animal life, the Audubon Institute has undergone many transitions. The land was initially owned by the original mayor of New Orleans, Etienne de Bore, and it was used as North America’s first commercial sugar plantation. It was the first plantation to produce the now common, granulated sugar. The process was discovered by a free African-American named Rorbert Rillieux. The land was used for commercial sugar production until it was donated to the public in the early 1800’s (The Audubon Story). By the time the Civil War rolled around, the Confederate army adopted the site for its own purposes. They stationed numerous infantry camps, cavalries and hospitals, most notably the Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers, made globally famous by the Bob Marley song, were an infamous company of African-American soldiers. After the Civil War, the land saw numerous remodels and was finally reopened to the public for the 1884 World’s Fair.
Bald Cypress pneumatophores in Audubon Park
It was at this time, the park was officially named Audubon Park, after the esteemed New Orleans based artist, James Audubon. It was not until 1894 that the park was fully landscaped into a public friendly area, modeled after New York’s central park. For the next 30 years the park went through numerous legal battles that enabled the birth of the zoo and the arrival of exotic animals. The park was filled was sea lions, tropical birds, elephants, monkeys and deer. The prolific amount of animals purchased was only possible by the myriad of community groups that came together to contribute to the cause.
Only 5 years later the dark cloud of the Great Depression floated above America, affecting the sustainability of the zoo and park. However, this did not deteriorate the people’s spirit and passion that originally kept the place running. Through a series of generous private donations, most notably from the Merz family, the zoo was able to stay afloat into the 50’s. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s the zoo was in operation but was in horrible shape, even described by the media as a “ghetto” for animals. Through the 1970’s the Zoo, like America was in resurgence. They subsequently added their infamous world primate section and children’s zoo.
Male silverback gorilla having lunch at Audubon Zoo
This rebirth set the standard that today’s Zoo is now known for. Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s the institution received praise from its industry contemporaries for its outreach programs and realistic environments. This steam carried over into the Audubon Institute expanding into the nationally acclaimed Woldenburg Aquarium, costing almost 25 million in construction. Finally by the late 90’s the Park, Zoo and Aquarium finally reached success. They provided the New Orleans community with wildlife education and family fun as well as expanding into a serious venture of philanthropy.
The Zoo now offers local schools and outreach programs a place to come and learn about the environment and the beauty of life. It provides children from all walks of life a way to see the serenity of wildlife and an opportunity to fall in love with nature. The Freeport-McMoran Audubon Species Survival Center exemplifies the fundamental ideal of zoology respect as shared the true patrons.
“Unique in the world, the campus combines research laboratories with acres of pristine natural habitat where rare and endangered animals can roam and reproduce. Exotic wildcats, Mississippi sand hill cranes, whooping cranes, saddle bill storks and other vanishing animals find sanctuary and flourish on these grounds, while scientists on-site at Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species wield assisted reproduction technologies in the war against wildlife extinction” (Preserving Wildlife for Tomorrow).
The center also boasts some of the world’s most modern technology in the field, like a “frozen” zoo that holds the genetic information of extinct animals and plants.
The mission and goal of the institute is undeniably to serve the community in a positive way. They strive to offer everyone in the community an equal opportunity to learn about and experience wildlife first hand. Offering discounts and financial support to local schools helps spread this initiative. The Institute also makes a point of minority hiring and vendor policies that cater to economically disadvantaged businesses (A Commitment to the Community).
As the Audubon Institute is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, the pressure to impress donors is incredibly high (Our Mission). One of the ways the Institute maintains its prestige is by staffing according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) standards. In order to become accredited with the AZA, a zoo must be evaluated based on animal management and care, their veterinary program, education programs, and on the quality of the staff (How Does Accreditation Work?). As the Audubon Zoo is in incredibly high standings, they have no trouble relying on the profits from entrance fees and the generosity of donors.
Bio-Facts in the Audubon Zoo Library waiting to be sorted
With such a vast array of knowledge to be had, the Education Department is an integral piece of the Audubon Zoo. One of the first exhibits you see when you enter the Zoo is the Education Discovery Walk. Interns and volunteers mostly staff the walk, who like the full time employees, seek to spread a love and awareness for nature. A person of any age could take a stroll through the park, and, thanks to the Education Department, learn something completely new. Even as an intern myself, I am still amazed at the expertise of many of the employees at the Zoo. As a keeper, one not only needs to be incredibly familiar with the animal in question, but with their natural habitat too. Most of the keepers designed and built the exhibits themselves (with the help of an on-staff carpenter). The staff of the Audubon Zoo- the keepers, curators, and even cashiers- is united under a staggering appreciation and respect for the natural world and the animals that inhabit it.
“Audubon Story.” Audubon Nature Institute. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://www.auduboninstitute.org/about/audubon-story>.
“Preserving Wildlife for Tomorrow.” Audubon Nature Institute. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. < http://www.auduboninstitute.org/content/reproduction-accomplishments>.
“A Commitment to the Community.” Audubon Nature Institute. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. < http://www.auduboninstitute.org/content/commitment-community>.
“How Does Accreditation Work?.” Audubon Nature Institute. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2013. < http://www.aza.org/becoming-accredited/>.
“Our Mission.” Audubon Nature Institute. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2013. <http://www.auduboninstitute.org/conservation/mission>