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John Ball Zoo

The John Ball Zoological Garden is a city park on the west side of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the United States. The John Ball Zoo is located on the park’s west side, among the ravines and cliffs. The zoo is a popular regional attraction that houses animals from all over the world. The zoo gives back to the neighborhood and the globe at large through the Zoo School and Wildlife Conservation Fund. The zoo is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and it was the first zoo in Michigan to achieve this status. On his death in 1884, famed pioneer and explorer John Ball gave the park’s initial 40 acres (160,000 m2) to the city. Soon after, another 100 acres (0.40 km2) were added, signaling the start of new facilities like ponds, a theater, a bandshell, playgrounds, sports fields, paths, and the zoo. The first mention of animals in the park is in city commission documents from 1891 when there was a debate about whether municipal funds should be used to acquire new animals to supplement the park’s current wounded and orphaned animals. The zoo had a difficult time during the Great Depression. Katherine Whinery addressed the mayor of Grand Rapids in 1949 about founding a zoo association to rebuild the zoo. The zoo’s first director, Fred Meyer, was hired. The Monkey Island Exhibit, the first big exhibit ever built, began construction in 1949 and opened on June 1, 1950. The John Ball Zoo was erected in the park’s hills throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The City of Grand Rapids administered the John Ball Park and Zoo until 1989, when the park, which had become a regional asset due to the zoo, was sold to Kent County. The park and zoo are still run and maintained by Kent County. The zoo expanded in the 1990s with the construction of Living Shores Aquarium, one of only two aquariums in Michigan, and a new café dining area outside of it. Also done at the same time was a new bald eagle aviary. In 2001, the Mokomboso Valley Chimpanzee Exhibit opened. The zoo and park’s 140 acres (57 hectares) were the subject of a new 75-100 million dollar master plan in 2005. It reworks the whole zoo, in addition to the current camels, African veld, chimps, petting zoo, and animal hospital exhibits. The new concept for the zoo includes a system of streams called “Grand Rivers of the World” that would connect the zoo to the park around the zoo. The zoo began building a 4.1 million USD 0.3-acre (1,200 m2) “BISSELL Lions of Lake Manyara” exhibit on April 27, 2007, the first part of the new master plan. Since 2005, when “Gilda,” the zoo’s last lion, died of old age, the zoo has been without a lion. Only three lions were installed in the show, which was designed for six. The new green lion display opened to the public on June 21, 2008.

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