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The origins of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo start with the opening of a small zoos door in the late 1930s. This particular organization was on the banks of the Hillsborough River in Plant Park. As the collection of animals grew, Mayor Nick Nuccio had the zoo moved to the more centrally located Lowry Park in 1957. While at Lowry Park, Tampa’s Parks Department was responsible for maintaining the zoo. The Lowry Park Zoo Association was created in 1982 by the prompt of the Tampa Parks Department and Mayor Bob Martinez. The mission of all those involved in indorsing the zoo was to create awareness and promote a public-private partnership to fund the renaissance of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. The zoo architectural firm, Design Consortium, Ltd. was brought on in 1984 to develop a 24-acre layout for the new zoo location. Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has had the honor of being rated for the second time in five years as the best zoo for kids by Parents magazine, in its “10 Best Zoos” survey.

  • Logo of the zoo
  • Penguins found at the zoo
  • Map of the zoo
  • Tiger Rollar coaster at the zoo
  • Elephants at the zoo
  • Prehistoric section of the zoo
  • Front sign of the zoo
Tampa's first zoo was a small collection of exotic animals in Plant Park on the grounds of the University of Tampa across the Hillsborough River from downtown. During the middle 1950s, Mayor Nick Nuccio led the push to move the zoo to a more spacious location. Land further up the river near the neighborhood of Seminole Heights was chosen. The combination zoo and park was christened Lowry Park after General Sumter Loper Lowry, a local resident celebrated for civic contributions and his service in several wars, but vilified by some for his controversial political views.

Lowry Park Zoo opened in 1957. The zoo shared the park with Fairyland, where concrete statues depicting fairy tales and nursery rhymes were along a winding maze of paths beneath the limbs of sprawling oak trees. This whimsical area was accessible via a large rainbow bridge.

As the wildlife collection grew, other attractions and rides were also added. By the early 1980s, the zoo featured a small roller coaster, a skyride, and a kid-sized train, among other kiddie rides. However, the zoo facilities were in need of repair and renovation, with the animals cramped concrete quarters so poor that the Humane Society called it “one of the worst zoos in America”.1

After several years of fundraising and with the help and support of mayor Bob Martinez and the city of Tampa, the original Lowry Park Zoo closed on September 7, 1987 for a $20 million reconstruction in which nearly all traces of the original zoo (including Fairyland) were removed and replaced with more modern facilities. The first phase of the revamped zoo opened in March 1988. Several additions and expansions since then have brought the zoo to its current configurationIn February 1988, the Lowry Park Zoological Society neared its first phase of completion.  The Zoo was able to start its journey due to the City of Tampa which committed eight million dollars to the project, in all the association planned on a $20 million campaign.  The first phase consisted of the entrance, administrative offices, clinic commissary units, Free- Flight Aviary, Asian Domain, Primate World, and the Children’s Village/Petting Zoo.  The zoo continued to grow throughout 1988.

In 2001, “Stingray Bay” was opened, this allowed visitors to pet and feed the Zoo’s stingrays.  In 2007, the zoo made several new additions to better serve the visitors, which came in record numbers.  Five new exhibits were created including: “Ituri Forest” in Safari Africa; a colony of African penguins in a new year-round outdoor habitat, Penguin Beach; and a remodeled Asian Gardens exhibit area.  In 2008, “Gator Falls” was constructed, a water flume ride.

Several significant animal births have taken place at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo: the Zoo’s first Indian rhino calf was born, its first and second Grevy’s zebra foals; and the Zoo’s first African white rhinoceros calf, all within 2009-2010.  

1. "About Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo." Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. Accessed April 21, 2014.